Sick while traveling? A long way from home?

 - April 16, 2008, 10:38 AM

Most business jet operators haven’t even given a second thought to a medical emergency away from home base. If they have, chances are they shrugged it off thinking they’d simply get back home via the company aircraft.

However, a typical corporate aircraft is ill suited for medical transportation. Beyond that, there’s the issue of qualified medical personnel on board to care for the patient en route. So what is it worth to have peace of mind regarding potential medical emergencies? According to Medjet Assistance, it’s $175 a year for an individual and $275 annually for a family.

Roy Berger, president of the Birmingham, Ala.-based company, told AIN, “One of the best things about our program is its affordability. Air-medical transports can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $60,000 and upwards, depending on location. But as a Medjet Assistance member, you pay for membership and not a penny more.”

Since its inception in 1991, Medjet Assistance has made dozens of transports for its members. The company currently has more than 50,000 members, and its roster is growing about 25 percent a year. To date, the company has operated in more than 20 countries on all seven continents, including the Arctic and Antarctic.

“Medjet Assistance is a unique membership program,” Berger said. “When I talk to people about our company, I ask them to think of it as triple-A for your body,” he said, referring to the American Automobile Association. “If your car breaks down, triple-A comes to the site and gets you moving again. If you’re seriously injured or hospitalized while traveling, we bring you home at no cost to you.”

Medjet Assistance is an annual membership program providing air- medical transportation to its members should they become hospitalized due to accident or illness almost anywhere in the world. The program transports members, at no extra cost over the yearly membership fee, in a medically equipped and staffed jet to the hospital of their choice. “If you are more than 150 miles from your home, we’ll take you back to your own local hospital,” Berger said.

Medjet Assistance doesn’t operate its own fleet of aircraft. Instead it utilizes worldwide affiliate aeromedical transportation providers. “One of the things we require of our affiliates is a minimum of $10 million in general liability insurance, with our company shown as additional insured,” Berger said. “They also have to operate medically dedicated jet-powered aircraft permanently configured as a mobile intensive care unit.”

Each aircraft is staffed with physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists trained in advanced cardiac and trauma life support, emergency and critical care medicine and pediatric and neonatal care. Cabins accommodate up to two patients, three- or four-person medical teams and up to two passengers accompanying the patient.

“While most people become members because they’re traveling internationally, about 60 percent of our transports occur domestically,” Berger pointed out. “It’s far more common to transport someone from Florida to New York than to fly someone from Europe or South America back to the United States. Even though someone may be receiving exceptional care at a hospital in the United States, they want to get back to his or her family and doctor, and we will take them there.”

The service isn’t limited to returning a patient home. Berger said if a member is hospitalized as an inpatient in their hometown hospital and it is determined that the member requires the services of a specialty hospital within the U.S., Medjet Assistance will do the transport. The new location must be more than 150 mi away from the member’s residence, and the patient must be unable to travel by commercial means without a medical escort.

In addition to medical transportation, Medjet Assistance provides a number of travel services to its members, including medical referrals, medical monitoring and consultation, language interpretation, emergency message relay, legal referrals, visa, passport and immunization information and transportation of mortal remains.

There are some exceptions. Areas for which the U.S. State Department has issued travel restrictions are excluded, and certain specified medical conditions, such as tuberculosis or other chronic airborne pathogen-type illnesses, are excluded.

“Many people believe their travel insurance policy will immediately transport them home should they require hospitalization,” said Berger. “But the truth is that most insurance policies cover you only for transportation to the nearest hospital if they feel it is medically necessary. As a member of Medjet Assistance, we’ll fly you home, regardless of medical necessity, to the hospital of your choice.”

Berger said that the term “medical necessity” is a red flag when dealing with insurance policies as most programs will authorize transport only if a person has a bona fide medical necessity. If your insurance provider decides you’re getting adequate care at a hospital thousands of miles from home, that’s where you’ll stay–even if you would rather move closer to home and family. Most insurance policies also put a cap on medical-transport cost, some as low as $25,000. Medjet Assistance has no limit on the cost of a medical transport.

According to Berger, Medjet Assistance is seeing strong growth in the business sector. “For instance, Boise Cascade, a supplier of timber and wood products, purchases memberships for 45 employees, primarily sales staff who travel extensively. National Geographic Television has about 100 memberships. Many companies simply buy Medjet Assistance as a trip ‘insurance policy’ for their traveling personnel.”