Insurance company follow-through

This item appears on page 42 of the July 2017 issue.

Diane Robbins of Penfield, New York, wrote (Dec. ’16, pg. 53), “I would like to hear of the experiences of… travelers who, after having purchased travel insurance, had to cut short their vacations because of medical issues. Did each receive assistance, whether by telephone or in person, from a representative of the insurance company or [if on a cruise or tour] from the cruise line or tour company? Also, from whom did they purchase their insurance?”

We asked readers each to share a recent experience they had had with insurance company follow-through when requiring medical care while on a trip. A few responses were printed in last month’s issue, naming a few insurers. This month’s letters all involve the same insurance company.

In New Zealand in February 2015, my wife, Kathleen, had a biking accident while we were on a group tour with VBT (Vermont Bike Tour) Bicycling & Walking Vacations (Williston, VT; 800/245-3868, Going downhill in the rain, she hit a pothole and went flying over the handlebars.

There were no doctors or hospitals on the west coast of the South Island, so, with the VBT guides’ assistance, she was treated at remote clinics staffed by nurse practitioners (with no x-ray equipment, etc.). 

Kathleen had severe lacerations on her hands and arms, which the nurse treated three days in a row, but by the fifth day her condition had grown worse and we decided we had to find a doctor. We found one in the town of Wanaka, where she was diagnosed with a severe infection and a shattered elbow. She was checked into a publicly funded hospital in Queenstown.

(I must add that VBT was fabulous in helping us seek medical care and assisting us during this difficult time.)

It was at this time that I contacted our travel insurer. Through a travel-insurance agent, we had purchased insurance with Travel Guard (800/826-5248,, getting a primary-payer policy.

We quickly discovered we had to be proactive in directing Kathleen’s care and insuring that all of her needs were met while in New Zealand. I had assumed that Travel Guard would assist us in lining up the best doctors and a private hospital for Kathleen. Instead, they said to follow the advice of the doctors at the Queenstown facility, who, after one night, sent her to another public hospital in Christchurch.

In phone conversations using Skype, Travel Guard stated only that they were in contact with the hospitals Kathleen was being treated at. I was told to keep them informed of what was going on and to advise them when she would be “medically fit” to travel home. 

After spending a night in the Christchurch hospital, my wife was cleared to travel. The doctors wanted to do surgery in New Zealand, but we insisted on going home for treatment. (We did not know it at the time, but New Zealand offers free medical care to anyone, including nonresidents, injured in an accident.)

Travel Guard did get us transportation home, as our insurance included coverage for emergency medical evacuation. Since we had already purchased business-class tickets for the trip, we wanted to be sure we remained in business class, and we did. 

After we waited all day, Travel Guard initially proposed a very circuitous route, taking us home through two cities in Australia. While it would have gotten us to Los Angeles and then Sacramento in about 24 hours, we insisted on a more direct flight. We stayed two extra nights in a hotel, letting Kathleen’s infections heal, before we could board the direct flight from Christchurch to California.

Shortly after the accident, I started writing a daily log and kept a file of all the expenses associated with the accident. I submitted very detailed claims to Travel Guard. 

In New Zealand, our out-of-pocket expenses for the private health care providers and medicines amounted to $400-$500 — not a huge amount of money. We requested reimbursement for taxi rides to/from hospitals, hotel expenses, damaged clothing and glasses, etc., and were reimbursed for most of those expenses. (Travel Guard would not reimburse us $160 for the taxi from Wanaka to the hospital in Queenstown.)

Portions of our trip, which we had to cancel, were nonrefundable, and Travel Guard did reimburse us for those. (We had planned to go to Tahiti for five days on our way home.)

Also, once we were back in the US, Kathleen had surgery and our private insurance paid for that, but we filed a claim with Travel Guard for the co-pay of about $4,000, and they covered that too.

In the process of getting Travel Guard to pay our claims, we repeatedly submitted forms, questioned their payments and made numerous phone calls and emails. It took several months.

Here is what I learned: (A) Buy a “primary-payer” policy. Once you get in touch with the insurer, they start paying all the medical bills directly. (B) Document all of the care you receive and be very detailed on the expenses incurred. (C) Scan all documents so you can email them to your insurer. (I highly recommend the Scanner Pro app by Readdle, available on iPhones and iPads. I used this extensively, as there were lots of forms to complete, which I would then scan and email to the insurance company. I had an iPad and used it not only to scan and send documents but to make phone calls using Skype; it was truly invaluable.) (D) Be persistent and proactive.

We still use Travel Guard when we travel, but I am a bit wiser to their methods now.

Steve Mahaney
Elk Grove, CA


Two ladies and I were hosted for five nights in September 2015 in a home on Whidbey Island, Washington state, as part of a Friendship Force exchange-group visit. 

During the last day of our visit, one of the ladies slipped on a wet forest path and broke bones in her foot. While she was in the emergency room, I learned that she had Travel Rite Annual travel insurance* from Travel Guard ( As I carry that same policy — and sell it as a travel consultant — I knew that it covered medical care and emergency medical evacuation.

It was natural for me to call Travel Guard and ask that a medical file be created for her. The agent did this and gave me a medical file number, also providing the phone number for Travel Guard’s Medical Department and suggesting that the patient call when she could.

My friend was released from the hospital late that night. The next morning, we were having breakfast when Travel Guard’s Medical Department called to see how she was doing. They requested medical information to determine how they could help. 

As that was the departure morning for my visit, I left for the 2-day drive to my Casper, Wyoming, home without knowing how the situation would be resolved. When I arrived, I called our hostess to ask how our injured friend was doing.

Well, Travel Guard had definitely come through. As it was Labor Day weekend, they couldn’t find a nurse in Seattle, so they flew one down from Vancouver, BC, Canada, to the Seattle airport. He then rented a Lincoln Town Car so the patient could sit in back with her leg up. 

He drove to Whidbey Island to get her, then back to SeaTac. Travel Guard had rebooked her ticket home and reserved three seats across so that she could sit with her leg up. 

The nurse accompanied her to Washington Dulles Airport, rented an appropriate vehicle and drove her home to be in the care of waiting friends. Travel Guard did this so that she could have the needed surgery near her home and friends… all for the initial insurance cost of $267. 

(The Travel Rite Annual is the same price for all, regardless of age, so it is of especial interest to travelers over age 70. Note: it does not cover preexisting medical conditions that have not been stabilized for more than six months.)

Dave Bentzin
Casper, WY

*Travel Guard’s Travel Rite Annual Plan covers emergency medical care and evacuation internationally as well as domestically at no extra cost.


As a travel consultant/agency owner who escorts tour groups, I cannot tell you how important travel insurance is and how many times my clients have had to use it. There have been a few times that they have had to cancel before a trip, but most of the claims have been for incidents while on a trip. 

A few examples are a death in the family, falling and breaking a hip and having to stay in a foreign country for surgery, contracting norovirus on a cruise ship and, a great example, having the adoption of a baby go through while on a cruise. 

In all cases, the travel insurer Travel Guard came though with assistance in getting everyone home for whatever their reason. I have nothing but praise for them. All I had to do was give them a call on behalf of the traveler, and they took it from there. 

Also, the cruise ships and tour companies were a great help with the situations. 

I highly recommend that you keep good records of payments and itineraries. You will be glad you did if you do have to file a claim.

Nancy Hall
McDonough, GA