Insurance: What, When, How, Why
By Carol Sottili
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 13, 2004; Page P01
Nancy Mantini's 80-year-old mother-in-law always wanted to visit her native Poland with her grandchildren. But last summer, just before they purchased the trip, Mantini's father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. Mantini said they had no reason to believe he was in any immediate danger, but, to be safe, she bought travel insurance recommended by her travel agent: $168 policies for each of the seven travelers.
When her father-in-law died unexpectedly three weeks later, shortly before they were to depart, Mantini's family canceled the trip. They subsequently put in a claim with the insurance provider, assuming their situation would be covered. But the company, World Access, refused to pay -- and Mantini's family was out more than $10,000.
Mantini isn't alone in being blindsided by the nuances of travel insurance. The process seems straightforward: Pay the premium, protect your investment. But in reality, it's a complex, often baffling product that flummoxes many.
Peter Evans, executive vice president of Insuremytrip.com, which sells travel insurance from 14 companies, says, "People don't understand what travel insurance is." Policies, he explained, basically cover three areas: trip cancellation protection, medical coverage and medical evacuation. Beyond the basics, there is also baggage loss and delay, trip delay and accidental death.
Sounds simple, but there are idiosyncrasies in each policy that can come back to haunt a traveler who doesn't pay attention to details.
Jeffrey Miller, a Columbia attorney who represents travel companies, said, "It's not necessarily critical that a traveler read all the fine print, but they must ask whether their particular situation is covered. For example, if you live with an elderly aunt, ask, 'Am I covered if something happens to her?' "
Miller says a good travel agent should be able to ensure that you get the right policy. But not all agents keep up with the nuances of these policies, which are constantly changing. Internet sites such as Insuremytrip.com and Quotetravelinsurance.com can also help because they post charts that compare specific aspects of each policy. But an astute consumer will click on the details box to make sure the coverage is as broad as possible.
"Look at the exclusions," said Evans. "Let's say you're going mountain climbing. Well, that activity is excluded by some policies."
In Mantini's case, her policy stated that preexisting conditions would be waived if the insurance was purchased within 14 calendar days of making the first trip deposit, a common insurance clause. Mantini did purchase the policy within the 14 days. But Emily Porter, vice president of marketing for Access America, the division of World Access that provides travel insurance, said there is another clause in the policy that states, "General exclusions include any expected or foreseeable events."
"This is like trying to buy hurricane insurance for your home right after the weather service has predicted a hurricane for your area," Porter said in an e-mail. "There is a chance it won't hit your home, since hurricanes are unpredictable, but either way, the insurance company isn't going to cover the forecasted hurricane if it does damage."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company