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How Travel Advisories Affect Your Insurance Plan

As a responsible traveler, you know that having an international insurance plan that covers you outside of your home country is essential in case you get sick or injured during your travels. But, even responsible travelers might not know how their insurance plan is affected when travel advisories are issued for their destination countries. Recent events, like the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, have brought the issue to the forefront and have gotten many travelers thinking, “Under what circumstances am I covered or not covered?”

As travel advisories can be issued for many different reasons, at many different levels, you should first understand what a travel advisory is and what it means. Generally, travel advisories are issued by a government agency or organization, such as the United States or the United Nations, advising caution and providing safety information for those traveling to or visiting a specific country, region, or destination. In the United States, travel advisories are issued by the Department of State in response to safety and security matters. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issue advisories due to health concerns. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issues advisories due to inclement weather.

Most governments and organizations distinguish between long- and short-term travel advisories. A travel advisory issued by the Department of State can be issued in two levels: as a travel alert or as a travel warning. The CDC issues alerts, warnings, and watches.

  • Travel Watch (Level 1) – A travel watch is issued by the CDC to indicate the baseline or slightly above baseline health risks of traveling to a certain destination. A watch is a reminder to follow usual precautions for this destination, like receiving recommended vaccinations and immunizations.
  • Travel Alert (Level 2) – A travel alert is issued for a short-term event that might make your travel or visit unsafe or even dangerous. Examples of these types of events include strikes, demonstrations, or disturbances; a short-term health risk or disease outbreak; a forecasted weather event; or an elevated risk of terrorist attacks. Travel alerts are cancelled after the short-term event is over. You should practice enhanced precaution when traveling to the specified destination.
  • Travel Warning (Level 3) – A travel warning is issued when a long-term or serious situation puts travelers and visitors at risk, and non-essential travel to this destination should be avoided. Some examples of conditions that might result in a travel warning include civil war, unstable government, significant crime or violence, or frequent acts of terrorism. An imminent natural disaster or weather condition is issued as a warning. Travel Warnings are only cancelled after the situation has been resolved. Many travel warnings remain in effect for years.

Ultimately you are traveling at your own risk, so neither a travel warning nor a travel advisory can legally keep you from traveling to your desired destination. It is simply an advisory to help you evaluate your own risk. Your travel insurance policy is there to minimize your risk, so how does a travel warning or alert affect your insurance? What are some examples of these in popular insurance plans? Moreover, how does a travel warning or alert affect your overall decision to travel?

Benefits To Look For

Travel advisories can affect certain aspects of your insurance coverage, depending on your insurance company and the details of your plan. Some benefits are triggered by these advisories (as long as you meet certain conditions), while others are null and void if you choose to continue your travel in places with effective advisories. All plans will list these details in their master policy. Here is a list of insurance benefits that could be affected by a travel advisory:

1. Medical Benefits – Your travel medical plan is designed to cover you in case you get sick or injured. Some illnesses and injuries may be excluded under the policy wording (like pre-existing illnesses and injuries resulting from organized sports, for example). However, in special cases involving travel advisories, insurance companies have been making special announcements to make their coverage terms in these types of cases clear.

HCC Medical Insurance Services (HCCMIS), the plan administrator of our Atlas Travel plan, issued this statement to explain how their long-standing travel medical plan covers illnesses related to travel advisories, like the ongoing Ebola epidemic:

“The Atlas Travel policy offered by HCCMIS provides travel medical insurance and emergency travel assistance to members traveling outside of their home country and covers illnesses contracted while abroad, including but not limited to, the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) or Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever (EHF).

While Atlas Travel coverage includes these illnesses, it is highly recommended that you check for any travel or health advisories that might be active for the region or countries that you may be visiting and take necessary precautions. In countries for which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a Warning Level 3 (avoid nonessential travel), the medical condition that prompted the CDC warning is excluded. All other eligible medical expenses are covered as usual. For members in-country at the time of the CDC warning, 10 days are allowed for departure before the condition becomes excluded.”

Seven Corners, a reputable insurance provider and administrator of the Roundtrip series of emergency medical and trip cancellation insurance plans, also released a statement in light of the Ebola epidemic. Emergency medical care and medical evacuation would be available if the illness first manifests itself during your travels if it was considered an acute and serious emergency. However, they urge you to carefully review your policy coverage terms and conditions

2. Terrorism – Many travel medical insurance plans include coverage for injuries and illnesses that result from an Act of Terrorism. However, many of these plans also include conditions that void this benefit if a travel advisory has been issued.

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For example, HCCMIS takes travel advisories very seriously and clearly states that the Terrorism benefit provided by their Atlas Travel plan is only available if the following conditions are met: “1) The Act of Terrorism is not in a country or location where the United States government has issued a travel advisory that has been in effect within the 6 months prior to your date of arrival; and 2) You have not unreasonably failed or refused to depart a country or location following the date an advisory to leave that country or location is issued by the United States government.”

Similarly, the Patriot Travel plan covers Terrorism, unless “the United States Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs has issued a Travel Warning on or within six months prior to the date of arrival, or if the Warning becomes effective on or after arrival and the insured unreasonably fails or refuses to heed such warning and thereafter remains in the area.”

Other terms and conditions may apply for this benefit to be provided and it is important to know how an “Act of Terrorism” is defined by your policy terms. If an injury or illness occurs and it is not consistent with the definition the company has provided, it may be covered under your regular medical benefit instead.

3. Natural Disaster – Nature can wreak havoc at any time, so Natural Disaster coverage is a good benefit to have in a travel medical insurance plan. For example, in the event of natural disaster (hurricane, flood, tornado, tsunami, etc.) both the Atlas Travel insurance plan and the Patriot Travel plan provide a benefit of up to $100 a day for 5 days if the member is displaced from planned, paid accommodations due to evacuation from a forecasted disaster or following a disaster strike.

Double check to see if your insurance plan covers natural disasters or if it limits this benefit in the event of a weather-driven travel advisory.

4. Political Evacuation – This benefit is most often activated when a travel advisory goes into effect after your arrival in your destination country. It is designed to provide transportation to safety or even back to your home country in some cases. HCCMIS allows you 10 days from the issuance of a travel warning to notify them to arrange for an evacuation under the Atlas Travel plan.

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In most cases, you are only eligible for this benefit if the travel advisory is not in place when the plan goes into effect. The Patriot Travel plan specifies in their exclusions that a Political Evacuation will not be covered if there is a travel advisory in effect on or within 6 months prior to the insured’s date of arrival in their destination country.

5. Trip Cancellation – Trip cancellation coverage protects you from losing the cost of your trip in case you need to cancel before you leave. This type of coverage is usually not included in traditional travel medical plans and is often purchased as a separate plan or optional rider. Typical covered reasons for cancellation include your own illness, injury or death; or the injury or death of a family member or traveling companion.

Most travel insurance policies do not cover trip cancellations in response to a travel alert or travel warning. The Patriot TRIP is a trip cancellation plan available as a stand-alone plan or as a rider to the Patriot Travel plan. This plan will not pay for any illness or injury or loss caused by or as a result of “[a]ny known, expected or reasonably foreseeable events or conditions that would cause a loss or claim..” A travel advisory would indicate a foreseeable event or condition.

Some plans may cover a cancellation in the event of a terrorist incident or a travel alert due to terrorism after your arrival. For example, the Roundtrip trip cancellation plans offered by Seven Corners covers a cancellation due to Terrorism according to the following terms:

“A Terrorist Incident that occurs in a city listed on your Trip itinerary and within 30 days prior to your Scheduled Departure Date. This same city must not have experienced a Terrorist Incident within the 90 days prior to the Terrorist Incident that is causing the cancellation of your Trip.”

Cancel for Any Reason is an enhanced benefit offered as a rider to a trip cancellation plan that allows you to cancel your trip, usually up to 48 hours before your departure, and to recover from 50 – 100% of your pre-paid trip expenses. This coverage is available on the Roundtrip Elite option, and allows you to change your mind about traveling in the event of a travel advisory or other circumstance.Travelers who are concerned about taking their trips in light of a travel advisory must have purchased their insurance prior to the alert being issued.

Remember, always be aware of exclusions in your policy wording that could negate or void your benefits in certain circumstances. For example, most travel medical plans will exclude injuries or illnesses that occur due to war, including nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare. Your insurance plan will clearly define any exclusions that apply, so be sure to read and understand them.

Additional Considerations Before Traveling

Travel warnings and travel alerts are issued for many different circumstances and situations. Each should be properly evaluated and researched before allowing it to inhibit or deter your travel choices. Some things to consider are:

  1. Identify whether or not the entire country is affected. Sometimes, the reasons for travel advisories are confined to particular areas of a country while other regions are perfectly safe. For example, Mexico’s recent advisories due to violence apply only to select states, while many popular tourist destinations remain safe. Another example includes advisories against travel to the Gulf Coast states of the US during hurricane season.
  2. Research the danger. Be sure to research and evaluate the danger and determine if the situation is improving or getting worse. If, for example, the advisory is in response to violence, find out where and what kind of violence is taking place. If the primary targets of attacks are foreign tourist as opposed to civil unrest amongst locals, you may have more cause for concern.
  3. Check travel advisories from multiple sources. For a more accurate perspective, check other government and organizational advisories to see what’s really happening in a country. Some advisories are said to be influenced by politics, so it’s a good idea to view several sources before deciding on your travel plans.
  4. Identify your safety net. Some countries do not have an effective embassy or presence to properly assist travelers if they experience problems. Check to see if your home country has the proper safety net in place if you need help. The Bureau of Consular Affairs in the US encourages US citizens traveling to foreign countries to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This program provides:
    • Notice of Travel Alerts and Warnings regarding your destination countries.
    • A means for the US Embassy in your destination country to contact you in case of an emergency, including natural disasters, civil unrest, or family emergency.
    • Important information from the US Embassy about safety conditions in the area so that you can make informed travel plans.
    Enrolling in STEP is free of charge. You can request email alerts for several countries, if needed, and you can begin monitoring your destination countries far in advance of a trip.

In Conclusion

Travel advisories can have an impact on your travel insurance. Carefully evaluate your benefits when purchasing a plan to make sure you have the coverage you need in case something unexpected happens. Consider getting ‘cancel for any reason’ protection in case alerts are issued in the future and you decide to cancel your trip.

When a travel advisory is issued and you’ve already purchased a plan, read your policy wording or contact your insurance company to see how the advisory affects your plan and your coverage. Carefully evaluate the travel advisory to decide if it is serious enough to change your travel plans.

If you are already in country, check with your insurance company to see what actions you should take, if any. This could include evacuating the country altogether.

For assistance finding a travel insurance plan for your upcoming trip, give us a call at 888-247-1387 or send us an email at info@internationalstudentinsurance.com


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