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What to Do If You Are Injured at a Race Abroad

Heading to an overseas race? Read this first.

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Heading to an overseas race? Read this first.

If you’re heading for an overseas destination race, you’ll likely confirm your hotel reservation, double-check to make sure your bike will arrive intact and on time, and obsessively check the weather so you know what to pack. But will you confirm your health insurance will cover you abroad?

Nobody plans on a medical emergency on race day, of course, but it happens. In a 2013 survey of triathlon race directors, 57 percent revealed that one or more participants required emergency service or hospitalization. Getting carted off the course in an ambulance is scary enough as it is; more so when adding the stress of a language you don’t speak, in a country you don’t know, with health insurance that may or may not cover your costs.

In the United States, most medical care will be covered by some combination of the athlete’s health insurance and the coverage of the race itself, especially if the race is sanctioned by USA Triathlon. When athletes purchase a USAT annual or one day membership, a portion of those fees cover the cost to provide them with excess medical insurance.

But overseas, the rules may not be the same, says insurance expert Jon Belinkie of Gloron Agency. “In the States a race sponsor would certainly provide insurance to protect themselves and their organization. Overseas, depending on the country, laws are different. A participant should not count on insurance provided by race sponsors.”

Just like you’d pack a bike with extra padding to increase the odds of it arriving safely to a destination race overseas, so too should athletes take steps to ensure a medical emergency can be handled swiftly and efficiently.

Check Your Policy
According to a 2017 study by InsureMyTrip, one in three Americans don’t know whether their domestic health insurance policy will cover doctor or hospital visits while traveling abroad. That’s because there’s no clear-cut policy for companies to follow.

“Many policies will pay something toward a situation, but it depends on many factors, including specific policy language,” says Belinkie. For example, certain locations may not be covered (conflict-ridden countries, for example), or some may have restrictions on treating pre-existing conditions abroad. Additionally, your insurance may require you to pay costs out-of-pocket, then file a claim for reimbursement (which may or may not be approved). Belinkie suggests calling the health insurance provider and asking whether a policy covers illness or injury abroad, and what responsibilities you may have to shoulder.

Get Traveler’s Insurance
Yes, it’s an added cost on top of an already-expensive trip, but a medical insurance policy for travel is likely not as pricey as you think. Most short-term medical plans range between $40 and $80, depending on age, destination, duration of travel, and benefits selected. “A good policy will cover just about anything that happens,” says Belinkie. “US citizens going abroad frequently buy a policy for the exposure [protection from financial loss] or at least a policy to guarantee emergency medical evacuation.”

That last item is the priciest—though some health insurance policies will cover customary hospital costs abroad, very few will pay for emergency medical transport back to the United States—a service that can run more than $100,000.

Don’t Skimp on Health Info
Those medical forms you’re asked to fill out before the race? They’re not a waste of time. The more information you provide about your health history, the more swiftly you can get the care you need, no matter where you are. When traveling abroad, keep a card in your wallet, purse, or backpack with any information regarding any medical conditions, current medications, allergies, health insurance coverage, and emergency contact information. Ideally, this will be listed in English as well as the local language. (For this task, Google Translate is your friend.)

Locate Your Embassy
During a medical emergency, U.S. Embassy and Consulate offices can assist with finding medical services, contacting family, and arranging travel to a better facility, if needed. They can also aid in facilitating changes to your return flight after care is completed.

Know Before You Go
Before your trip, review the travel guidelines at the Centers for Disease Control to learn about health risks of the country you will be visiting, including any recommended vaccinations.

Health First
For minor illnesses and injuries, you may have the luxury of searching for a doctor who speaks English. This can come in handy if you’re struggling to explain your symptoms. The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers provides a search engine of vetted, English-speaking doctors worldwide.

But if it’s an emergency, don’t worry about language, and don’t minimize your symptoms because you’re worried about the cost of treatment. Just get to a doctor, STAT. “If it is serious, my advice would be to get the best care possible and worry about costs and insurance later,” says Belinkie. “As long as the bills can be generated in dollars it is likely not going to be a problem for a carrier to process some benefits subject to specific policy language.”

RELATED: The Do’s And Don’ts of Race Travel