Travel costs are falling faster than Bernie Madoff's client list. Plummeting oil prices have already led to cruise-line fare reductions, and air travel bargains are showing up every day. And if getting there is becoming cheaper, so is staying, wherever your destination might be. Global economic weakness has hammered travel and tourism, spurring terrific accommodation and excursion packages.
But if overseas travel is part of your plan for 2009, you need to take careful steps to make sure your health needs are considered, and protected, when you are away from your local doctors, pharmacy, and hospitals.
Susan Yates, vice president of Assistance Services for Mondial Assistance, has developed a list of health-related steps that travelers, particularly older travelers, should take before they ever set foot on a plane, ship, or whatever conveyance is taking them to exotic locales. Mondial is a unit of the Allianz Group; its Access America insurance and emergency assistance services are available in all 50 states.
1) Make multiple copies of passports and any visas needed for the trip; include credit cards as well. Keep one set with you in a separate location from the original. Give another set to a family member or friend at home.
2) Consult with your primary physician to discuss any medical needs, new treatments, or required alterations in medical care that may be necessary based on your itinerary. Discuss whether you should take low-dose aspirin during periods of prolonged immobility (e.g. plane flight or train trip). If you have ongoing medical needs (long-term oxygen therapy or hemodialysis, for example), consult either your primary medical doctor or specialist physician to ensure continued delivery of these therapies. If you have an implanted medical device, such as a pacemaker, discuss any travel-related precautions that might apply.
3) Print and carry with you: a list of medications you are currently taking, along with doses and frequency of use (list the medication with both its trade, i.e., brand, and generic names and a list of your medical problems and diagnoses with details furnished by your primary medical doctor.
4) Make sure you have enough of your medications, prescription and nonprescription, to last throughout your trip. Put them, along with any other medical necessities, in a carry-on bag and do NOT place them in checked baggage that is not immediately accessible to you at all times.
5) Review in advance with your travel agent or trip planner, and your primary medical doctor, the medical locations and medical personnel at your planned destination(s) that you might require should an unanticipated medical event occur.
6) For remote destinations, consider the need for additional vaccinations or prophylactic therapies. This type of planning must occur well in advance of departure and is best accomplished via your primary care doctor and/or through a travel medicine clinic consultation specializing in these services. Such therapies are typically not available in a hospital emergency department.
7) If you have unusual medical needs and are traveling to remote areas of the globe, consider carrying a single-treatment supply of life-saving therapy with you. (For example, a hemophiliac would travel with factor replacement therapy.) This also should be discussed and planned with your primary care physician.
8) Contact your insurance company prior to travel to learn about benefits available overseas. If you use Medicare, your coverage will not extend beyond U.S. borders and you will need to consider purchasing travel insurance with emergency medical and dental coverage. Check specifically for an available waiver for pre-existing condition exclusions as well as emergency medical transportation benefits. Medical evacuations can run in the tens-of-thousands of dollars.
9) If your insurance company does provide coverage while you are overseas, you'll need to confirm the number to call in the event of an emergency. Be sure to get a number that can be dialed from overseas (generally U.S. toll-free numbers cannot be dialed from overseas).