The global economy is here to stay, and travel is necessary in order to keep pace. Employers have a need — in fact, an obligation — to care for employees if they have a medical emergency while traveling on business, but few are prepared to take on the responsibility of implementing or funding the solutions. Many insurers have responded by bundling global emergency travel assistance services with their life, health, or disability policies. For agents representing such products, the assistance component can serve as a compelling differentiator at the sales table, adding a dynamic element to the benefits mix and taking the focus off of products whose only redeeming factor is that they carry the lowest rate. Positioning assistance effectively in the sales process, however, requires a full understanding of the product.

About travel assistance
Global emergency travel assistance programs became popular in 1950s Europe, when new post-World War II geography placed populations speaking different languages in close proximity, and the smallest cross-border medical emergency could have become a complex problem. Today, assistance protects domestic and international travelers with medical referrals, evacuation, repatriation, and many other powerful services.

Assistance is not medical, travel, or trip cancellation insurance. Rather, it is a service that arranges and pays for travelers to find and obtain quality emergency medical care away from home, and to bring the traveler home safely once they are stabilized. Once in the care of a qualified physician or hospital, the costs of actual treatment and hospitalization are covered exclusively by a member’s health insurance plan, just as if the incident had happened at home.

While there are several types of travel assistance available, this article will focus exclusively on those global emergency travel assistance services sold in conjunction with insurance benefit plans.

Advantages of travel assistance
Agents know that most insurance sales come down to one thing: rates. But the fact is, there will always be a lower rate — if not during this round of negotiation, during the next one. Having a quality assistance program in the mix, however, takes the focus off of rate-based selling.

For an agent approaching a prospective customer or renewing existing business, there are many benefits of travel assistance to discuss. For employers, having a travel assistance plan in place:

  • Empowers them to proactively alleviate risk, responsibility, and liability factors associated with business travel, such as illness, accidents, and death, and gives companies a solution for handling employee emergencies away from home.
  • Protects a company’s most valuable assets — its employees — safeguarding the organization’s investment in human capital by ensuring staff receive quality health care in a timely fashion when they have a medical incident while traveling, and safely bringing them home.
  • Demonstrates the company’s commitment to employee welfare, thereby enhancing employee loyalty and retention.

There will be times when an employer will question the value of a travel assistance program because they do not have a lot of employees who travel or because their company is small. These objections are easy to overcome because:

  • Even employees who do not travel on business will travel for personal reasons — either that, or their spouse or dependent children will.
  • At small companies, it is more likely that a higher percentage of the staff will travel than at a large company, and each of those staff members is probably less replaceable with respect to business knowledge and operations than at a large company.

Potential pitfalls
Not all global emergency travel assistance programs are the same. Agents representing insurance products that contain an assistance component should ask to see the assistance company’s service certificate, which will reveal the advantages — as well as the potential disadvantages — of the offering. Some examples of differences to consider and evaluate are whether the provider has pre-existing condition exclusions, arranges services but does not pay, or has financial caps and limits on cost and usage of services.

Agents who are educated about the details of the global emergency travel assistance program they represent can effectively communicate the program’s benefits to employers, and can leverage its advantages to make a sale or retain business.

Stephanie Croquez is the director of implementation for Assist America of Princeton, NJ. She can be reached at 609-921-0868.

Services in Action: A Case Study

Employee John is on vacation in Orlando, FL with his wife, Sue, and two children, son Adam, 8, and daughter Emily, 14. One day, they rent a boat and go water skiing. During her turn, Emily hits the wake from another boat and is knocked forward into her ski, fracturing her arm. Sue, a diabetic, dives in to help and is hit in the head by the towrope handles. John circles back and pulls both of them back into the boat, telling Adam to call the Coast Guard for help. Sue quickly goes into diabetic shock. The Coast Guard arrives and takes them all to an Orlando hospital, leaving their rented boat anchored offshore.

The assistance company receives a call from John about the medical situation. It contacts the hospital, makes sure the facility and treatment are suitable, and monitors care of the two injured people; it also offers to provide urgent trauma counseling for John and Adam. Simultaneously, it arranges and pays for the return of the boat to the rental location. Within a day, Emily is outfitted with a light cast and released; Sue remains in the hospital in guarded, but improving, condition. The assistance company repatriates Adam and Emily to their home in Chicago so they can get back to school, flying their grandmother in from Philadelphia to watch over them. After a week, Sue is well enough to be discharged from the hospital, but she needs help getting home and continued rehabilitation. The assistance company arranges Sue’s admission to a quality rehab center near home, flies her to Chicago via air ambulance with John by her side, and delivers her via ground ambulance to the facility for a complete recovery.