Have the wrong travel insurance while hitting the slopes overseas can hurt in more ways than one.
Words By Tess Cook
Photo: Alex Roberts
Before heading overseas every skier and boarder should double-check their travel insurance will cover them, no matter what. Finding the right policy, not the cheapest policy, reading the fine print, declaring existing medical conditions and knowing your rights are a must.
Quick and easy travel insurance could leave you high and dry in an emergency.
It’s all too easy to take out insurance online these days, and many credit card providers make it even easier with “automatic cover”, if you use the card to pay for your airfares. However the cheapest often doesn’t cover snow sports at all and unless you read the fine print, not mandatory before securing the policy, you won’t know till its too late.
“Snowboarding is not covered by a lot of insurance companies,” says Peter Hardhan, the Panel Chair of the General Insurance Division of the Financial Ombudsman. “Companies are quite up front that they won’t cover snowboarding, but it has to be clear,” he says.
Hardhan sees insurance claim disputes everyday, he stresses it’s so important to pay attention to what is and isn’t covered by your policy; don’t assume you’re covered. “Lots of (credit) cards have free travel insurance,” says Hardhan, “trouble is these policies don’t provide very good cover. Make sure (your) policy will cover dangerous sports,” he urges.
Relax on your overseas holiday with the assurance of knowing you have good cover.
Photo Alex Roberts.
Read the fine print, unexpected restrictions apply
Even comprehensive policies may have unexpected restrictions. Snow Insurance Australia’s policy disclaimer states: “we will not cover you if you ski or board off piste on ungroomed terrain that is not marked into trails within the resort area.” Yes, that means all off piste action.
It goes on to say, “(we) will not cover you to go bobsleighing, recreational snowmobiling, snow rafting, para-penting, heli-skiing, ski jorening (that’s being pulled behind a horse on skis) or any form of power assisted skiing. It also won’t cover you for ski acrobatics so you may wish to reconsider the next heli you try to pull off that mogul.”
Even if you’re not planning to hitch a ride behind a passing horse, you might take a little stroll to seize that fresh pow, attempt a 720 or grab the opportunity of a day’s heli skiing when it’s offered, which would mean you need a non-standard insurance policy.
There are policies covering the more extreme snow activities and many will give extra cover for extra premiums, Snow Insurance does cover for heli skiing, for instance, but it’s your responsibility to make sure you get it, says Hardhan, don’t just choose the cheapest online policy or bundle insurance in with your air tickets he says.
Managing Director of specialist snow holiday operator Travel Plan, Toby Withers says
“We advise clients that it is essential they have insurance cover for their ski holiday, and ask them to confirm they have a policy if they have not purchased one from us,” he says. “We point out to them that not all corporate travel insurance covers skiing,” he says.
Medical treatment costs can be astronomical
According to their website, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) handles over 20 000 cases involving Australians in difficulty overseas every year. This includes over 700 hospitalisations, 600 deaths and 100 evacuations of Australians to another location for medical purposes, which can cost up to $300 000. Helicopter evacuations in remote mountain areas can have similar costs and are sometimes an injured skier’s only way out.
While DFAT will help travelling Australians, you’re still up for the bill in the end. “Travellers who are not covered by insurance are personally liable for covering incurred medical and associated costs,” the website states.
A simple doctor’s visit in the United States will cost hundreds of dollars, ambulance rides are in the thousands and for a stay in hospital expect to pay up to $10 000 a day, says DFAT. Even simply getting home, if you need extra assistance and an airline upgrade will take a chunk of you holiday savings.
Photo: Saph Ferrel
Don’t give Insurers a reason to say no, declare existing medical conditions
Such debts could be life crippling and a company’s refusal to honour a policy can rest on the smallest detail. Hardhan recounts one story of a dispute in which the injured was a young man with an existing back problem. When he took out the policy he was asked if a pain specialist had ever treated him, to which he truthfully answered no.
“Inevitably he had the fall (skiing) and the company discovered about this existing condition,” says Hardhan. It didn’t want to honour the claim but because their question had been poorly worded, the man wasn’t asked if he had a pre-existing medical condition, it had to. “He was lucky,” Hardhan adds.
Most companies will cover for a pre-existing medical condition with a doctor’s assurance and for a small additional cost. Should you fail to disclose though your policy could be void says Hardhan, even if your current injury isn’t related in any way.
It’s your injury and you can stay put if you want to
Insurance companies will also often want to get you home as quickly as possible, says Hardhan, because they’re no longer responsible for your medical bills once you’re in Australia.
But if you have a doctor saying travel before treatment could put your health at risk, you’re within your rights to stay put, says Hardhan. The insurer will need to honour the claim.
Olympian Jono Brauer needed surgery after breaking his femur and damaging his ACL racing in Europe this March. “All they cared about was getting me home,” he says of his insurer, which wanted him to come back to Australia before going under the knife. “What would have happened if I had (flown home) is my bone would have started healing and then it would have had to be re-broken,” he says. “It wasn’t until we had the surgeon on the phone talking to the insurance company’s doctor in Australia that they actually said I could have the operation there, which is ridiculous,” he says.
Sometimes you may want to come home, if a Russian doctor’s waving rusty surgical instruments at you, in which case the insurer should organise appropriate transport including any airline upgrades, but once back in Australia you’ll be depending on Medicare or your private health insurance, both of which can have large excesses.
Travel Insurance just keeps paying
If you’re treated overseas, travel insurance should pay for everything; every last needle and hospital gown, and may cover other costs such as food and accommodation.
NRMA’s Travel Insurance Policy states “We will cover the reasonable costs of additional accommodation or travel expenses that result from you being delayed due to illness or injury…We will also pay the reasonable costs of your partner, a travelling companion, or relative to travel to you, stay with you, or escort you to Australia or to another place, as agreed by us if your treating doctor or dentist advises us that you need assistance.”
Comprehensive policies may also provide cover for loss of insurance if you’re unable to return to work for an extended period.
These covers are conditional on the insurer agreeing to honour your claim, which it won’t do if the circumstances of your accident breach the conditions of the policy.
Photo: Vaughan Brookfield
Insure you’re Insured
If Jono Brauer, Australia’s top downhill ski racer with 11 knee reconstructions can find an insurer to take him on, you’ll find one that covers all the things you want too.
6 easy steps when searching for Travel insurance:
1) KNOW what you’re planning to get up to and what you’ll need cover for, consider all the possibilities, do you think you might go bobsledding?
2) READ the policy disclaimer’s of any insurance you’re looking at, don’t just click ‘yes’ to insurance when you’re booking your tickets online.
3) SPEAK to someone, especially if you’re unclear about the policy’s cover. Phone the insurer directly to make sure.
4) DECLARE any pre-existing medical conditions, anything you have previously been treated for is considered ‘pre-existing’.
5) FIND the right policy for you. This may mean something non-standard.
6) BE AWARE of your travel agent’s knowledge. A good travel agent should know about snow sports travel insurance but if you’re using a big chain or budget service they may not, and they’ll be trying to sell you their own or associated product.
Insurers that specialise in snow holidays:
Travel Plan specialises in snow holidays, book with them and they will know what sort of insurance you need.
Snow Insurance Australia offers extra cover of the kind most skiers and boarders need, like resort closure and travel delayed due to blizzards.
Ski-Insurance offers on and off-piste cover and has policies for professional athletes, so if you’re planning to compete in any events these are your people.