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Boomers Want To See The World, But What If They Get Sick Abroad?

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If you flipped a coin, the likelihood that it would turn up heads offers the same odds as finding a baby boomer who wants to travel and explore the world.

A June 2007 survey developed by Focalyst, New York, and highlighted by AARP, Washington, found that about half of boomers and a third of those a generation earlier than boomers have the travel bug.

Responses to the survey of 30,000 boomers found that more than 81 million adults aged 42 and older are planning to spend a total of $126 billion on their next trip. And, according to the survey, boomers with children 18 and younger are one of the most lucrative segments of the market.

The study found that boomers are more likely to travel domestically than internationally. Sixty-two percent of boomers and 55% of those in the generation preceding them took 2 or more domestic trips in the past year, the survey finds. But, it continues, only a respective 19% and 21% took 2 or more trips in the past 3 years.

Comprehensive data on the number of travelers who become ill is diffuse, but a Web search did locate studies that provided a general idea of the likelihood of illness while traveling. For instance, an August 2002 article on international travel in the New England Journal of Medicine by doctors Edward Ryan, Mary Wilson and Kevin Kain, found that between 20%-70% of 50 million travelers from the industrialized to the developing world reported illness tied to their travel. Most of these illnesses were mild but 1%-5% sought medical attention and 0.01%-0.1% required medical evacuation, the article says.

Knowing what options are available can help reduce medical risk while traveling. The following are just a few of the choices boomers can turn to in the event of illness while traveling.

U.S. Consulates–According to information at Document Link, the following guidance is provided to travelers:

–For injury, when necessary, the State Department can assist in returning a citizen to the U.S. commercially but the full expense is borne by the citizen or family.

–The consulate can assist in finding medical services but the cost is borne by the citizen either through medical insurance or private funds. The Medicare program does not provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside of the U.S. Embassy. Information is available at Document Link.

–While health insurance will pay ‘customary and reasonable’ hospital costs abroad, few pay for medical evacuation back to the U.S., a cost that starts at $10,000. Check medical coverage and look into supplemental coverage if needed.

Credit Cards–Credit card companies offer special cards and programs that include extra help with arranging medical care away from home. As an example, VISA offers a VISA Signature card with 24-hour help in emergency situations including medical emergencies. Prescriptions can be filled or replaced and delivered. Assistance and referrals are provided but the cost of medical attention is borne by the boomer.

Visa Signature Concierge is a related service which includes recommendations on pharmacies and local medical help.

Fees are set and vary by card issuer. Benefits including the Concierge come with every Signature card regardless of issuer and there are no special fees for the Concierge.

American Express offers an array of features, says Mona Hamouly, a spokesperson. She outlines 3 features: a Global Assist 24/7 hotline available to all cardholders and product subscribers that arranges but does not pay for medical services unless the cardholder is a Platinum or Centurion member; an international medical protection service in which enrolled members are charged $14.95 per international airline booking and receive paid medical expenses of up to $75,000, dental expenses of up to $1,000 if expenses are due to injury or sickness, and up to $500,000 medical emergency evacuation; and, a global travel shield program that offers a portfolio of different travel insurance products.

Private Services–”There are now so many services online that it is easier to compare and contrast,” says Susan Grant, director of consumer protection with the Consumer Federation of America, Washington.

In fact, a Web search of medical referral services while traveling produced 103,000 entries. And, the state department offers a list of a number of providers and links to the providers’ Web sites. The list is available at Document Link. It includes air ambulance/med-evac, travel insurance companies that provide coverage abroad, executive medical services, and medical escort services.

“The most important thing is to read the fine print. It will help you understand exactly what is covered and what isn’t covered and under what circumstances,” says Grant. “Read the details very carefully before purchasing or relying on a service.”

There may also be some coverage available if a boomer purchases a trip using a credit card, she adds.

If a boomer has a chronic medical condition, make sure that those services and medication are available and are available through existing insurance, Grant adds. If they are not available and optional coverage is needed, then it comes down to completing a thorough comparison, she explains.

And when a boomer needs to use his own medical insurance, then if possible, find out what kinds of authorizations are needed and in what time frame, Grant suggests. She said, for instance, that in her health plan, participating doctors would need to be used regionally. But, if she was in another country, and there was an emergency and there were no participating doctors available, then a non-participating doctor could be used, according to Grant.

An insurer could use a definition of emergency and if there is doubt, the insurer should be contacted before a trip, Grant adds.

If a travel agent is used, then a boomer can see if the agent offers assistance, she says. Sites like offer general information about health, insurance and emergencies.

A boomer can also consult his doctor or pharmacist, Grant notes.

There are also basic steps that a boomer can take to prevent being caught off guard if there is an illness, she says. They include checking the best temperature to store medicines and carrying medical and personal contact information. If there are problems with a health insurer, a boomer’s state insurance regulator (see ) can always be contacted upon one’s return home, she says.

John Flood, CEO with Flagship Global Health, New York, one of those private providers, describes what he believes is the value of having an advocate in your corner should illness strike on a trip.

Flood cites access to doctors, hospitals and medical evacuation services using regional teams of medical experts which know the best medical options in a particular geographic area. His service specializes in connecting members with medical help and does not provide insurance, he explains. He says that over 1,000 members with serious medical emergencies have already been helped by his company.

Part of that value, he continues, is having a virtual strongbox of medical and legal information such as a will and a health care proxy that can be accessed through a secure Flagship Website in the event of an emergency.

Boomers, in particular, can benefit from such a service, says Flood. The reason, he explains, is that if a boomer is part of the sandwich generation, a family membership can cover the boomer and spouse and children and even parents who are not at home. If a child is traveling in Europe, he says, the boomer has the peace of mind of knowing that there is a network of medical care available if an emergency arises.