International travel insurance provides peace of mind for those spreading the Gospel.
By Jeff Gulleson
Rodger Murchison, associate pastor of the First Baptist Church of Augusta in Georgia, faced a missions pastor’s worst fear — the death of a team member while on a mission trip. When the enthusiastic group of nine assembled in the church parking lot to head for earthquake-ravaged Chile, no one could have guessed one of their group members would not return with them.
At 59 years old, Debbie Williams was an active member of her church and community. She and her husband had spent more than three decades serving those in need on various short-term medical trips. Their plans to assist a Chilean clinic seemed routine for this active couple. But Debbie fell ill on the flight. When the plane landed, she was rushed to a nearby hospital. Sadly, nothing could be done to save her.
The possibility of such a tragedy must cross the mind of every missions pastor. But those who have faced the reality will tell you it is much more horrendous than most pastors can imagine. And if that weren’t enough, a team member can always fall ill or become injured and require medical evacuation in order to return home to the United States.
Not only do these procedures require mounds of paperwork, but without travel insurance they are also cause financial hardship. The family of Don Jenkins of Ashland, KY, was stuck with a bill of $90,000 after he tripped and hit his head while on a mission to Costa Rica. The family of Britt Leis had to pay $55,000 just for his medical evacuation after he was mugged in Ecuador. No doctor or missions pastor could have foreseen or prevented these events.
But even in the midst of grief and the miles of red-tape required to return Debbie’s body to the U.S., Murchison could pause to be thankful. You see, it was Debbie who had urged him to add team travel insurance to his last-minute plans. And in the midst of tragedy, team travel insurance would see her returned to her family.
So what can travel insurance do for your short-term missions team?
1. Cover overseas medical bills. While missions pastors always remember to insist that their team members secure a passport for their trip, few remember to have them check their health insurance for international coverage. Medicare and many domestic health insurance plans do not cover services rendered outside of the country. And the new health care bill has not changed this lack of coverage. Short-term team travel insurance can cover any medical emergencies the team might encounter.
2. Provide medical evacuation for ill or injured team members. Medical evacuation can be very expensive and the need for it can arise suddenly and unexpectedly. However, there are no domestic medical plans that cover medical evacuation even if they might cover services at an overseas hospital. Travel insurance is the only way to obtain this type of coverage.
3. Return the remains of a deceased team member. When tragedy strikes, flying the body of a deceased team member home can be as expensive as medical evacuation. And on top of all the red tape, flight arrangements are commonly tricky. Most travel insurance plans include an often overlooked benefit that can be invaluable in such as situation. Insurance representatives experienced in making arrangements in out-of-the-way places can often be reached with just a phone call.
4. Offer assistance and peace of mind. In fact, you may find the unnoticed benefits of travel insurance to be the most valuable. A traveler in Vietnam who suffered a perforated ulcer discovered this. Insurance representatives determined that the medical facilities available in the area were inadequate for his care and arranged a medical evacuation for him to nearby Thailand where he could obtain proper medical treatment. The transfer undoubtedly saved his life.
And the services a good travel insurance broker can arrange for you don’t end there. Scouting trips necessary to set up mission trips can be covered by an individual travel plan offering the same benefits as team plans.
If you commonly make multiple missions trips each year, a multi-trip travel insurance plan will save you money while covering all of your missions travel. Trip cancellation insurance covers the cost of your flight should political unrest, a missed connection or natural disaster disrupt your plans.
In spite of its many benefits, travel insurance coverage is relatively inexpensive. So before you finalize your plans for the next missions trip, remember to contact a qualified travel insurance broker. You’ll be glad you did.
Jeff Gulleson founded Good Neighbor Insurance, Gilbert, AZ, a firm that specializes in international health, travel and life insurance. [www.gninsurance.com]