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Life Health > Health Insurance

7 Tips for Elder Travelers

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When you’re out in the community building relationships, or when you’re talking to clients or prospects, one topic that might come up is elder travel.

Long-term care insurance (LTCI) policyholders — including some who are already collecting benefits — may want to travel to attend family events, get to second homes, or see the world. They may start the conversation by asking about travel medical insurance and assistance services.

Travel assistance services have demonstrated their value in the aftermath of events such as the earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010.

You may already have a relationship with one or more travel medical issuers.

Here are some other matters to keep in mind when you are talking to elderly clients or their caregivers about travel.

One basic question is where the elder traveler is going, and whether the traveler’s Medicare supplement insurance plan, Medicare Advantage plan or other coverage provider covers medical care in that location.

Another basic question is how fit the elder traveler is. If the elder traveler is sharp and healthy, the only challenge might be the need to pay a little extra for travel medical insurance.

If the elder traveler has dementia or health problems, the challenges may be more formidable, especially if the traveler is going to another country.

People with dementia or other long-term care (LTC) issues may travel internationally, but they need to be aware of the potential risks of such travel with respect to their known medical conditions. They also must think about the unexpected new health problems that may arise, such as heart attack, stroke, pneumonia, intestinal infection or bleeding, or falls or fractures. Those problems could interrupt their trip or result in hospitalization in another country far away from home. 

People with dementia may be stable and doing well in their familiar home or long term-care facility environment, but they may mentally decompensate due to a sudden change in their environment and the stresses of international travel. Those stresses include changes in their routine activitys, changes in medication or meal schedules, long flights, and jet lag.

Here are 7 tips that LTCI agents and brokers could give to help LTCI policyholders, beneficaries and caregivers decide whether trips are feasible and increase the likelihood that the trips will go smoothly.

1. Potential international travelers with chronic medical conditions should discuss trip plans with their primary health care providers to help determine if their overall medical status will allow them to safely travel. Their underlying medical conditions must be stable prior to departure.  The traveler should be able to mobilize well enough to get in and out of a wheelchair with assistance from a family member or other traveling companion, or a professional medical travel escort, all of whom can also assist the person with activities of daily living, such as getting dressed and eating.

2.  Carry a hard copy medical report, or both a hard copy report and an electronic version, from the elder traveler’s primary health care provider. The report should detail the traveler’s medical history, including medical conditions, medications, allergies, vaccinations, blood type and a copy of a recent electrocardiogram.  Also carry a document with contact information for the traveler’s primary health care provider, hospital and other emergency contacts, passport information, and health care and travel insurance information.  Leave an extra copy of these documents at home with an emergency contact person.

3.  Pack an adequate supply of medications and medical equipment (such as insulin needles/syringes, portable oxygen concentrator, wheelchair, walker) to last for the planned duration of the trip. When possible, prepare for travel delays by carrying enough supplies to last a few extra days. Most of the smaller supplies should be packed in carry-on luggage, though a few days of medications may be packed in checked luggage just in case the carry-on is lost.  A small first aid kit with additional supplies will help the traveler deal with minor unexpected injury or illness.

4. Request wheelchair/cart assistance at the airports when making airline reservations. Arrange appropriate airline seating for the disabled traveler. If getting a business class or first class seat is financially feasible, the reclining seat will provide a comfortable bed for sleeping on long international flights. Other options to consider for comfort and convenience include premium economy seating, bulkhead seating and seating close to the lavatory.

5.  Schedule ample time for flight connections. Large international airports can be difficult to navigate for a tight flight connection. It’s often better to have a 3-hour layover rather than a 1-hour layover. With the 3-hour layover, you’re less likely to miss your next flight. You can then use the extra time for a leisurely light meal, shopping or a restroom break. Access to an airline lounge can provide a quiet place to relax between flights.

6.  Consider buying a comprehensive medical and travel assistance plan if the traveler’s primary health care insurance provider does not provide coverage for international medical services and transportation. This is particularly important for the mature traveler whose primary health care coverage is provided by Medicare. Medicare typically does not cover medical services and transportation outside of the United States and its territories. My company, for example, offers travel, medical and security assistance for travelers up to 85 years of age.

7. If it appears that trips would be too much for individuals, consider including them in the festivities via an interactive video connection with Skype or FaceTime.


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