Beef Up Group Life With Travel Assistance Benefits

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One way for your group life clients to touch even more employees with their benefit plans is to add emergency travel assistance benefits to their group life programs.

In 1959, two Frenchmen came up with the idea of an emergency travel assistance program after one broke a leg while traveling in Spain. The travelers realized they neither spoke the language nor knew where to receive adequate medical care. Obtaining help for the injury was difficult and stressful. When the travelers got back to France, they created a program that would come to the aid of travelers. The plans gradually took off in Europe, and they arrived in America in the 1980s.

Today, an emergency travel assistance program is a valuable benefit for employees who face unexpected problems while traveling 100 miles or more from home, domestically or internationally.

Many companies dont know where to start when it comes to helping traveling employees with their emergency personal or medical needs. Health plans may reimburse traveling employees for covered medical care, but they may not be in a position to effectively coordinate logistics to ensure appropriate medical care is provided. Also, there may be some services that can be very hard to arrange, like medical evacuation, repatriation and return of mortal remains. Navigating an unfamiliar health care system also can be daunting, particularly if there is a language barrier because of travel in a foreign country. Also, often travelers are unaware of where the nearest medical facilities are and whether those facilities can provide the breadth of care they may need.

Since statistics show that more than two-thirds of Americans traveled in 2003, maximizing the number of employees that an emergency travel assistance program covers by attaching it to a group life plan is a great perk.

Because some employees opt out of participating in disability plans and other benefit plans, or those benefit plans are not offered to certain employees, the best way to increase the number of employees who have emergency travel assistance is to add it to a basic group life plan.

Separating The Good And The Mediocre

While some plans may have similarities, not all emergency travel assistance plans are created equal. You have to read the fine print.

Most emergency travel assistance programs give eligible employees access to doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and more while on their travels. Good ones also offer assistance in obtaining prescription medication, appropriate medical coverage, emergency trauma counseling, legal and interpreter referrals, and transport home of a minor child if that child is left unattended as a result of the accident or illness.

What really separates the good from the mediocre, however, is whether or not there are caps on expenses, chargebacks and/or limitations to geographic locale, pre-existing conditions or how the injury occurred.

Caps on expenses. Quite a few travel assistance service providers impose caps on their services. For instance, if a traveler was on vacation with his family, fell ill and required a medical evacuation, that service could run upwards of $200,000. Tacking on joint transport of a wife and child is another expense, not to mention the treatment itself. Because services provided by emergency travel assistance can be expensive, implementing a cap on services could result in a traveler having to foot the bill for services that could have and should have been fully covered.

Geographic limitations. With some service providers, members only can use services in certain territories, or geographic locations that are “open” for assistance. Placing restrictions on travel location is disconcerting as each traveler will have to be aware which locations are “safe” in case the unexpected happens. Good service providers dont enforce any geographic limitations.

Pre-existing conditions. According to the Travel Industry Association of America, baby boomers, ages 35-54, took 42% of all trips last year. As the population ages, it is a statistical fact that they are more apt to suffer from a disability. In turn, this disability could be deemed a pre-existing condition. Therefore, if pre-existing conditions are not covered under an emergency travel assistance program, chances are that a good number of employees will not be covered.

How the injury occurred. Adventure and extreme sports have been all the rage lately. What if an injury occurs while an employee was participating in an adventure or extreme sport and the travel assistance provider excludes all sports-related injuries? This is a common practice at mediocre travel assistance providers. Additionally, they may exclude all alcohol-related injuries.

An exceptional travel assistance program offers an array of services that are worry-free, no caps, no chargebacks, no limitations. This means that if an accident, illness or death occurs while an employee is on vacation or business, emergency travel assistance services for the traveler are fully covered. When the service provider pays for the services it provides, cost savings for the employee can be extensive.

is assistant vice president for group life products at Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, Wellesley Hills, Mass., a unit of Sun Life Financial Inc., Toronto.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, January 6, 2005. Copyright 2005 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.