What travel insurance REALLY means. *Warning*: graphic content
I don’t blog. In fact the thought of sharing anything about *me* makes me shudder with thoughts of narcissistic loathing.
However, there comes a time in every man’s life when something fucks him off so intensely, that cursing over a pint with friends just doesn’t cut it. A pain that only the internet masses can alleviate.
I speak, of course, about insurance. The modern-day criminals, whom we are required by law (if you want to drive on the roads, for example) to have, yet seem to be completely above the law when it comes to taking our money, and offering us nothing in return but insult to injury.
My most recent experience with insurance, is the travel kind. Before leaving London to begin life as a ‘digital nomad’, I initially dismissed the idea of even bothering to buy insurance, having never had a successful claim in my life. But I eventually took the plunge and wasted countless hours comparing insurers, trying to find one that would actually pay out in the event of an accident. I already have insurance on my belongings, so it was purely medical emergencies that I was hoping to find cover for.
Many roads lead me to insureandgo.com, as their backpacker insurance would cover me for 18 months of travel, which was exactly what I needed. Reviews suggested they were reliable and their ratings seemed to confirm this. So I settled on their “Backpacker Bronze” cover, at a total cost of £273.70.
Included in this package are:
Medical screening: Included
Medical expenses: £5,000,000 (this is what I was buying this package for)
Personal liability: £2,000,000
Personal accident: £10,000
Legal expenses: £10,000
Delayed departure: £200
Holiday abandonment: £2,000
Accommodation cover: £500
Missed departure: £250
You cannot fault them on what they offer for that price, it’s a fantastic amount of cover for a very reasonable price. Except they don’t.
On May 31st 2018, whilst driving my scooter home here in Bali (which Insure and Go covers), I lost control on a bend and drove straight into a tree. Which I like to think looked incredibly cool & dramatic like this:
But in reality looked more like this:
I wasn’t driving fast, but my hand was crushed between the tree and the handlebars.
Whilst laying face down on the cold, hard concrete road, struggling to breathe, there was no “life flashing before my eyes moment” no deep, philosophical epiphany. My only thought was:
“I bet Insure and Go will fuck me”.
After being carried to a nearby medical clinic by 2 lovely Australian fellas, (whom I didn’t get to thank as I never saw them again 💔) I was laid down on a bed, and the nurses began to clean my wounds. It was all a bit of a blur up until that point, I actually thought it was worse than it was, it was difficult to breathe, and there was a lot of blood, so being the stoic Englishman that I am, I naturally assumed that I was dying.
After Bali’s corner shop medical centre’s best efforts at cleaning and bandaging me up, I was wheeled off for x-rays. The results showed a broken rib, and my right hand was broken in 4 places.
Which ultimately was a lot better than I was expecting. But on the other hand (no pun intended) my finger-tip was hanging off.
The clinic then said I needed to go to A&E, but being Bali, they sent me in a taxi as it was quicker than waiting for an ambulance. (the level of healthcare here leaves a fair amount to be desired)
So after nearly an hour bleeding over a taxi driver’s front seat whilst he threw me worried looks, asking “OK?”, I arrived at Kasih Ibu General Hospital.
Finally, I thought, the real treatment can begin.
Still not knowing for sure whether or not I was going to die (internal bleeding is a thing, right?) I was seen by more nurses and a DR, who poked and prodded me all over, but seemed to refrain from any actual treatment, leaving me pondering:
“When will they sew my finger back on?”
Another hour or so passed, it’s about 5am, I’m alone, tired, the pain is starting to set in, and I’m still bleeding, a lot. Finally the DR returns again, and says I need urgent surgery on my hand (which naturally was no surprise to me at this stage) but being a religious holiday (it seems 95% of days in Bali are religious holidays) the surgeon would not be able to see me until the next day, possibly the day after that.
Fortunately, the surgeon had taken time out of his holiday to Whatsapp a diagram of his intended procedure from his phone, which I can only describe as the scribbles of a mad-man. I can’t recall exactly what the picture was now, but if memory serves correctly, it resembled this:
I thanked them kindly for their help thus far, and booked a flight to Singapore.
I knew I had a finite amount of time to reattach my finger before it would die. I had sent the picture to a surgeon friend who had already given me odds of 20% that the finger would be saved, so I wasn’t about to wait another 2 days.
Within 6 hours I was boarding a plane to Singapore, covered in blood, with my arm in a makeshift cast. The moment I sat down in my seat to the look of horror from the family next to me, I passed out from exhaustion.
When I awoke, we had landed. Straight through security, no luggage to collect, I jumped in a taxi. “Where to?” the driver needlessly asked. “Hospital” I murmured. “Which one” he replied. I gave him a look that he correctly interpreted.
Things improved dramatically from this point, the level of healthcare in Singapore is fantastic. I shit you not, there are actual robots driving themselves around the hallways.
I was seen almost immediately at Changi General Hospital, by numerous specialists. All of whom did a truly terrible job of reassuring me, each one saying things like “this is actually very bad” and replying to my questions of “will my hand be normal again?” with the philosophical:
“What is normal to you?”
Touché Dr, touché.
On the plus side, after lots of scans and ultra-sounds they concluded there was no internal bleeding and I wasn’t going to die.
After a few hours of different specialists & consultants staring at my finger, they eventually drafted a plan together.
“We will admit you to our in-patient ward, and schedule you in for surgery tonight. Our priority is saving the finger, which we will try our best to do, but cannot say for sure if the tip is ‘viable’ and whether you will need a skin graft. We’ll then look at fitting a plate for your 3rd & 4th metacarpal. We suggest a stay of 5 days for the surgery and recovery”
“Great!” I said, “whatever you think’s best”
At this point, I was in a wheelchair, with a blanket over my bloody legs, and an IV drip pumping me with pain-killers & antibiotics due to the extremely high risk of infection, as it had already been around 18 hours since the accident and my wounds were still open. But at last there was a plan and I could relax.
I was wheeled over to the receptionists, where I was shown a screen with my quote for a 5 day stay excluding the surgery. It was $22,000.
It was now that I realised I hadn’t informed my insurers, it had been the last thing on my mind. Christ, I hadn’t even told my mum. But I was in Singapore now, my battery was dead, and filling out forms was literally the absolute bottom of my agenda. I handed over my business debit card to pay a deposit and wondered how my accountant would reconcile this expense.
Later that night, around 3am, I was woken up and carted off for surgery. It was 25 hours after the accident now, and my finger-tip was black. I was awake for this one, but injected multiple times in my hand, so felt no pain. Surgery lasted around 90 minutes. But they managed to save the finger, they were even able to sew my own nail back on.
The following day, they informed me it had been successful, and there was no longer a risk of losing the finger-tip. I would need another operation ASAP to install a small plate into index finger knuckle, as one of the bones had broken off completely and would need to be reattached. They were still unsure whether I would need a plate across my hand for the 3rd & 4th metacarpals, but would make the decision during the next operation.
At this stage, I discharged myself, it seemed unnecessary for to me to stay in their ward using a bed when I could just as easily check in to a hotel. Even if my insurers were going to pay for this, it felt wrong to rack up $22,000 on a hotel bed that I didn’t need when there were other people waiting.
I checked into a nearby Holiday Inn for around $100/night. This reduced my hospital bill from $22,000, down to $5,300. Now that I was able to rest, charge my phone and had time to digest the situation, I called Insure & Go and informed them. They sent me numerous forms to fill out, which I did with great difficulty using only my left hand. (being right handed)
I gave them every piece of information I could. Was I drunk during the accident? No. Was I wearing a helmet? Yes. Did I hold the relevant licence required? Yes.
The email back and forth was tedious. Numerous forms, proof of my travel dates, bills from the hospital, x-rays, pictures of my wounds etc etc etc…
When they asked why I hadn’t informed them within 24 hours, I explained that it was a chaotic time, I was alone, my battery was dead, I was dying.
The usual reasonable excuses.
But “Don’t worry” I said, “I’m a reasonable man, I’m not claiming for the costs so far, as I didn’t inform you, I appreciate that, I’m not claiming for the cost of the bike repair, or the first medical centre bill, the taxis, or the flight to Singapore, or the hospital bill, not even my accommodation.
All I would like cover for is the next operation on Monday, which requires me being under general anaesthetic, and will probably cost around $15,000.” In hindsight, there was no need for me to be reasonable, I was well within my rights to claim for the lot, I had £5m of medical cover after all, as well as £500 of accommodation cover and £10,000 of personal accident cover. But still, I felt inclined to be reasonable.
After more back & forth and days lost over email, I received the below:
Our medical team believe this injury may require long term care, so we would see if beneficial that you return to the UK for treatment, if you have a pre booked flight home please advise us on the date? We may be able to amend it to have you come home sooner.
Link to full email
OK, so they want to see if it’s beneficial for me to fly back to the UK for long term care, that’s reasonable, I was considering this anyway, depending on how long it would take me to recover.
I replied and told them I didn’t have a flight back booked as was intending to stay in Asia for another 6months at least, and more importantly, I wasn’t in any state to be travelling. Link to full email
Next up from them:
Please note our medical team recommends curtailment.
(meaning to arrange for my travel back to the UK)
Were you able to obtain a not fit to fly from your treating doctor? If you do, please provide it to us so we can provide to our medical team for further review.
Link to full email
At this point, it’s 4 days until my scheduled surgery to have a plate fitted in my hand, and each reply from Insure and Go takes 3–4 days. So I had to decide, do I ignore their advice, have the surgery here in Singapore, giving me best chance of a full recovery and hope that Insure and Go will reimburse me?
Or do I risk further injury by spending 20+ hours flying home, only to start the process all over again at a NHS hospital, with new DRs, new tests and no idea how long it will be until I’m able to have the surgery?
Obviously, health is more important to me than money. So I opted for the surgery in Singapore. Clearly, Insure and Go value their profits significantly more than the health of their customers.
The day after the surgery, my DR gave me a written letter stating I had not been fit to fly and I forwarded it onto Insure and Go.
Up until now, they were asking if I had this, which suggests they would accept it, otherwise, why ask for it?
7 days later…
Dear Mr Banger, (my name is now Banger apparently)
I have forwarded the letter from the treating doctor who stated you are not fit to travel to our medical team and they advised the below in bold.
Please see below the international Air transport Association (IATA) medical manual, this is the standard used worldwide to determine if a patient is fit to fly. The patient may want to forward onto the treating doctor to help point out to us where in the manual the reason why he is not fit to fly as our decision would still be curtailment and he would have been fit to fly.
Link to full email
The manual is 94 pages long.
I read the 94 pages, and replied with:
6.1.2 General Guidelines for Medical Clearance
Medical clearance is required by the airline if the passenger:
(e) has a medical condition which may be adversely affected by the flight environment.
I asked them for medical clearance and they refused, stating that “prolonged travel at a high altitude had a great risk of causing movement and further swelling to my hand”, which could result in my bones rotating further, requiring further surgery.
If your medical team’s advice was curtailment, but I did not have medical clearance, that clearly rules the option out.
Link to full email
Their final response was as follows:
“This is a general exclusion and doesn’t apply to you specifically. Our decision still stands with curtailment. No further medical input needed.
Medical clearance would have come through a MEDIF filled out by one of the medical professionals here and cleared with the airline. ”
Please be aware that there is a formal complaints procedure.
Please refer to your policy wording for details on this
Link to full email
If medical clearance would have come from a MEDIF filled out form, why did they ask for me to obtain a “not fit to fly” from my DR in the first place? And why had this taken 7 days?
They called me with the final outcome, and informed me that in their ‘opinion’ I should have flown back to the UK, and had the surgery for free on the NHS. And they would have paid for an economy class ticket home as a goodwill gesture.
They didn’t say; “your curtailment cover would have got you a a comfortable journey home” but they would have bought me the cheapest ticket they could find, as a personal favour.
My insurance was worthless.
20+ hours in an economy seat with a broken rib? Fuck your goodwill.
Where was my £2,000 of curtailment cover?
My £2,000 of holiday abandonment cover?
£500 of accommodation cover?
Or my £5,000,000 of medical cover?
So now I have a $20,000 hole in my bank account. They couldn’t even be bothered to explain how I could appeal, simply stating: “Please be aware there is a formal complaints procedure, refer to your policy wording for details on this”
When I emailed back and asked what the complaints procedure was, the replies stropped, and I never heard from them again.
This is their business model. They promise you cover for all sorts of eventualities, but ultimately it comes down to “their opinion”.
I paid for insurance, not opinions.
I’ve filed my formal complaint, it’s been 2 weeks now and they haven’t even acknowledged it.
I hope that sharing this will help others avoid falling into the same trap. The reality is, unless you are injured whilst sitting perfectly still, in a safe place, wrapped in cotton wool, they will find a way to say your actions void your policy. (Even though my policy “comes with cover for over 50 activities and sports as standard, so you can get up to more on your trip”.)
And unless you are injured so horrifically that you cannot survive another moment without life saving surgery, odds are they’ll just tell you to fly home and have the surgery for free. After waiting weeks for the NHS to schedule you in.
They knew that by taking days at a time to reply to my emails, it forced me into having the surgery, presumably so they can claim indemnity because I went against their recommendations.
They also hope that I will simply give up and go away, like so many of their rejected claims probably do. But I won’t. It’s not even about the money now.
I put my faith in Insure and Go, and they fucked me.
I like to think that maybe one day, Antonio Huertas the CEO of Insure and Go’s parent company, will find this post, and he’s reminded that whilst his company boasts revenues of almost €30bn, the claims they reject aren’t all fraudsters trying to get themselves a new iPhone on their insurance.
It’s real people, laying in hospital beds, in foreign countries, alone.