Good repatriation cover should top the ‘must-have lists’ of expat and travellers especially in Winter.

11 January 2016

Whether you are considering full blown international private medical insurance, a short term travel plan, or a student policy for a member of staff's family, most experts agree it pays to check the policy detail of the repatriation cover offered by the insurer and to be sure of precisely what it will or will not guarantee.

Repatriation cover is one of the most important parts of any overseas health insurance protection plan. For the short term traveller, it is the means by which you will get home, following an accident. With winter now well and truly upon us, skiing holidays are probably the best example of this.

Medical insurance, assuming it includes dangerous sports cover, will ensure you get off the mountain and into a hospital should you be unlucky enough to have an accident. But what many people do not realise is that will be the limit for some short-term travel plans - put another way they are designed to patch you up and not much more. As many short-term health policies will not cover the ongoing costs of local treatment and medication, you need to ensure that if the need arises, an individual can get back to a country where their recovery can be overseen by professionals and where their medical costs will be covered.

If you find a patient cannot be repatriated, the local medical bills will mount up very quickly - treatment bills running into the tens of thousands of pounds are not uncommon, following serious road or sports injuries.

Equally, if that patient then decides to fly home anyway to escape high local treatment bills, the cost of specialist transport can be daunting, especially if they need to be accompanied by a medical team.

For someone who has suffered serious injuries or who is still very ill following major surgery, specially adapted aeroplanes are available - their cost, though, is obviously higher.

There are four main elements to a typical medical evacuation and repatriation benefit.

Medical evacuation can arrange transport to the nearest adequate medical facility, if the local medical facilities are found to be inadequate. This could be particularly common following even a minor accident in places such as Africa, where the quality of local facilities, medicine and medical supplies can be so poor that evacuation is essential.

Another pertinent case is cancer treatment - often the newest and best drugs are simply not available outside of the most developed countries, so patients are frequently moved to access the best doctors and treatments.

Another more recent illustration is provided by the outbreak of Ebola in Africa, with several British patients and two nurses, William Pooley and Pauline Cafferkey, having to be flown rapidly and securely in specialist transport aeroplanes back to facilities in the UK , where quarantined and specialist medical support could be offered.

At the other end of the scale, medical repatriation can equally be arranged for a traveller to simply return to their home country to receive care when recommended by a doctor and agreed by the air transport specialist.

Within a short term travel policy, this is probably the most common application of the benefit.

Repatriation of a deceased person, whilst thankfully rare, will also require specialist facilities, which in turn translates into a higher cost.

Repatriation of mortal remains arranges for the return of a deceased person back to their place of residence or where they are to be buried.

Finally, a popular benefit offered as part of some longer-term international private medical insurance policies enables the policyholder to elect to be treated in another country of their choice, even if local facilities are adequate.

This might be because having close family to hand could be beneficial, or it could simply be the result of personal preference. Either way, repatriation is the means by which this will be achieved.

Specialist assistance providers such as APRIL Assistance, which has 43 offices, 150 exclusive local agents and delivers 24/7 assistance services in more than 25 languages worldwide will offer repatriation and assistance products separately from the primary insurance provider. This can remove a potential source of conflict of interest, and, importantly, it means that the evacuation provider is a specialist in that field.

Such an arrangement can offer flexibility in the design of an insurance policy, giving the insurer the freedom and choice they need to develop exactly the right policy for an employer, rather than be limited in terms of the service provision.

As insurers compete amongst themselves to offer the best policies to individuals and groups of employees, evacuation cover is one area where relevant competition and differentiation is possible.

It is a vital part of any effective policy and one of the first benefits a potential buyer will check when considering the options. That's why it is best left to the specialists.

Grégoire Ezanno is the business development director of APRIL Assistance

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