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Does your medical or travel insurance cover repatriation flights?

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Does your medical or travel insurance cover repatriation flights?

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At Medical Repatriation UK, our patients come first! There is no such thing as a medical emergency or a distance too great for us to handle. With this in mind, our primary goal in providing you with air ambulance services and comprehensive medical solutions is to protect your most valuable asset: your health. However, in the midst of a serious medical emergency, reliability and cost should be your last priority. While Medical Repatriation UK addresses this first concern by providing you and your entire family with unrivaled quality care every day of the year, what about your insurance coverage? Is it applicable to medical repatriation flights? Let us clear up any confusion you may have about this subject.

Medical flights: The distinction between repatriation and evacuation

When it comes to ambulance flights, there are two types of operations to consider: Medical repatriation and medical evacuation.

Medical repatriation is the transport of a sick or injured person directly to their home, if their condition is stable and there is no risk of complications, or to a health establishment in their country of residence where they can receive appropriate care.

On the other hand, medical evacuation, which is frequently confused with medical repatriation, deviates slightly from this concept. In this sense, while medical evacuation also includes the transfer of a patient on board an aeromedical transport, the latter will be directed to the hospital of their choice. This facility could be in the same country, but in a different region, or even in a neighbouring country with a better healthcare system.

Let us concentrate on medical repatriation for the purposes of this article, and more specifically on the situations in which such an operation may be necessary, if not essential.

ambulance jet

What are the circumstances that necessitate medical repatriation?

Contrary to popular belief, medical repatriation is far more common and accessible than it appears. Indeed, the situations that necessitate such an operation by ambulance flight are numerous, ranging from the least serious cases to patients whose health condition is critical.

Let us depict some of the life-threatening situations in which medical repatriation may be necessary or even recommended. These can include car or extreme sports accidents, or normally safe activities like hiking, in which the victim has had multiple broken limbs, haemorrhage, or any other trauma. After receiving initial emergency treatment in the host country, a patient who has limited mobility or who is unable to fly via a commercial airliner may wish to use our medical repatriation services to return back home. This may be to continue their treatment in their country of origin, surrounded by relatives, and where the healthcare system can be superior or even free.

Other emergency situations include:

  • Severe pain;
  • Breathing difficulties;
  • Organ transportation;
  • Heart attacks and strokes;
  • Fit and/or epileptic seizures;
  • Critically-ill Covid-19 infected patients.

Medical Repatriation UK’s repatriation services are also available in non-emergency situations, that is those when the passenger's vital prognosis is not at risk. This applies to patients who want to benefit from experimental or the best possible treatments in a foreign country, but also to:

  1. Elderly people who want to move or travel, but who are unable to do so without supervision or complex medical assistance;
  2. Tourists stranded in a foreign country due to unexpected border restrictions or inaccessible flights;
  3. Asymptomatic Covid-19 infected passengers who wish to return home but are not accepted on scheduled flights.

Do you find yourself in one of these situations and want to return to the UK using our medical repatriation services? Are you wondering if your health or travel insurance will cover this service? In fact, unless your insurance company covers the cost of medical repatriation to the UK, you will have to spend your hard-earned pounds to pay the bills.

financing options

Is your medical repatriation covered by private insurance companies in the UK?

If you become unexpectedly ill, have an accident, or any other medical emergency while on vacation, you may need to be brought back to the UK early. However, as previously stated, repatriation is not always as simple as catching an earlier scheduled flight home and is far more than simply a replacement plane ticket. Indeed, you may need to be transported home from a remote location, or you may need to fly back to the UK in a specialised air ambulance. You could also need a medical escort, hospital stay and medical expenses, travel or even accommodation costs for a companion. Quite costly, this may well run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, but private medical and travel insurances can help.

What is repatriation insurance? Repatriation insurance covers the costs of getting you back to the UK if an illness or accident while abroad disrupts your return travel plans.

Is repatriation included in travel insurances? Yes, it is covered by standard travel insurance policies. While some insurers may not specify a repatriation cover limit, only that they will cover the costs, others will have medical cover limits that include the cost of repatriation, as far as it is considered medically necessary or medically reasonable.

Did you know that? The medical emergency expenses section of your insurance policy documentation contains information on how much cover your policy provides for repatriation (if it is stated at all). If you are still unsure, contact your insurer and inquire directly.

What is included in a typical repatriation travel insurance? All insurance policies provide varying levels of coverage, but as a general rule, the cost of returning home once your medical team has determined that you are fit to travel, as well as the cost of lodging and transportation for a companion or arranging the return trip on your behalf, should be included.

Are repatriation travel insurance policies subject to any restrictions? Yes, and they include pre-existing medical conditions, that, if not disclosed in advance, may render your insurance invalid, drug and alcohol-related illnesses, violence-related injuries, and expats.

What about private medical insurance repatriation policies? Private health insurance companies do not routinely cover medical repatriation. In most scenarios, only extreme cases will be covered, and even then, often only partially. You should contact your agent to clear this up.

Does the National Health Service (NHS) cover medical repatriation?

Repatriation of an NHS eligible critical care patient from outside the country is possible, but should ideally be to the hospital closest to the patient's residential address in England. Furthermore, if the latter requires specialised critical/intensive care that is not available in all hospitals (e.g., max fax, complex orthopaedics), the nearest hospital (to the patient's usual place of residence) that provides a combination of the services required should be targeted. These critical/intensive services include specialist organ support (burns, neurological, or liver) or a specific specialist service that cannot be provided by the nearest hospital to the patient's current residence.

Depending on timing, bed availability, and communications with the air repatriation service used by the patient's insurers, it may be necessary to repatriate to a neighbouring hospital rather than the closest, and this should be planned. Typically, the air repatriation service would coordinate with the lead medic, who would then speak with the relevant lead medic of the appropriate receiving unit. Before the patient can be airlifted/transferred, the designated consultant must usually approve the patient for ITU admission.

Critically ill patients transferred by air from abroad who are eligible for the NHS are split into two groups:

  1. Patients transferred by recognised aeromedical transfer companies with knowledge of the UK medical system, either through insurance companies or through governmental arrangements;
  2. Patients transferred on the spur of the moment by unrecognised, often small and foreign-registered, aeromedical companies.

Patients who have been transferred by a recognised company in accordance with their association's code of conduct should arrive with:

  • A trained escort; 
  • An agreed-upon destination;
  • A notification of departure and arrival times;
  • A unit contact from the referring ICU in another country, with prior discussion and written transfer information.

It should be noted that Medical Repatriation UK is not permitted to perform a medical repatriation to a hospital unless the hospital has previously confirmed the admission.

Can I still use Medical Repatriation UK’s services without an insurance coverage?

Medical Repatriation UK works with a wide range of clients, both insured and uninsured. However, it should be noted that without a repatriation cover, you will have to foot the bill yourself. If raising the necessary funds on your own appears difficult, there are a number of quick ways to do so:

  • Bank loans;
  • Crowdfunding sites;
  • Loans from friends and family.

Do you have any additional questions?

In our FAQ, we answer many of the most frequently asked questions about medical repatriation and patient transfers.

Contact us right away for medical repatriation!

Please contact our 24-hour service at any time if you require additional information or a free non-binding quote. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff can be reached at: 

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