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The Importance of Proper Expedition Insurance

The Colca Canyon in southern Peru, purportedly the deepest in the world, is beautiful but its descent is strenuous due to the altitude and frequently very narrow ledges. An adverse medical event would most likely require evacuation on foot because helicopters cannot fly to the high-altitude areas where hikers are stranded, or cannot land due to the terrain. On a recent expedition to this canyon, a participant sustained serious injuries after a 50-foot fall stopped only by a large cactus patch. Evacuation was required, but the five-hour ascent by mule would be very difficult and painful at best, with potential for deterioration. The physician on site contacted the company whose “evacuation” policy the patient had purchased, a well-known organization that markets its services internationally, called “M***** A*****”. The company refused to evacuate the patient, stating they were only required to transport him, and that required him to be at a medical facility, which was inaccessible. A second company with a known track record of successful evacuations was contacted. This company provided an immediate response, but unfortunately, because the patient had not purchased the policy from the second company, he bore the full cost of the expensive evacuation. Predictably, several months later, the first company, which refused to evacuate the patient, now claims repeatedly they did not refuse evacuation. Fortunately, the patient recovered without complication because he received timely care.

The moral of the story is to carefully read your insurance policy. While the first company technically fulfilled their legal obligation for transport, the language in the policy is deceptive because it does not specify evacuation, and the interpretation of transportation is provided by the company. Therefore “evacuation” only occurs when convenient. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence among travelers and is not the first instance associated with this company. With travel insurance coverage, the old Roman warning Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware) is very applicable.