My neighbor died this morning. I didn’t know him but I gather he was in his fifties, English and as fit as a fiddle. Until a few months ago when cancer grabbed him by the throat.
I have only just heard the story but, apparently, it came on all of a sudden, as I suppose it always does. One minute you don’t have, the next minute you do.
Despite spending all his money travelling back to England last month for treatment, and only last week was in an expensive hospital in Bangkok having something else cut out, he has now sadly passed away. At no age at all really.
I had wondered why the other neigbours and management staff were going in and out of his condo so often over the last few weeks. Now I know why – he had nobody else to care for him. He was all alone.
Needless to say, not having health insurance when we are in a foreign country is a very, very low situation to one day find ourselves in.
My late neighbor could have done with it right now, or at least his family could because they can’t get his body home now.
I don’t know how long he had been living in Thailand but I just worked out that for the cost of three soapy massages a year he could have had full-time care, bed baths, medical treatment and a flight home for the same price. If he had spent the money on health & travel insurance instead.
When we were young we all had a sense of immortality didn’t we? The summer was long and yet time was short and the thought of paying for something we were highly unlikely to use seemed ridiculous.
We had youth on our side. Things didn’t break, or fall off and besides, accidents happened to other people. Older people usually. And we had the National Health Service. If anything went wrong we took ourselves off down the doctors or, at the very worst, A&E.
And it was all free, paid for, looked after and taken care of. How lucky we were.
Then we grew up, traveled abroad and thought the important things from home were Branston Pickle, fish and chips and warm beer. Bloody foreigners.
But things change though don’t they. Soon enough we could get Branston Pickle on the Costa Del Sol and pretty much every other comfort from home became available. That’s probably why so many of us moved overseas when we grew older and had made a few quid.
But they have never quite got their heads around that free health care have they, those countries near and far many of us now call home. And that is why not having valid health insurance once you pass thirty-years-old is a terrible idea.
The Insurance Library Research Unit estimates that around 40% of all people who travel abroad, either on holiday or to live, do not have any personal health or accident insurance. I don’t know how many people 40% is, and I can’t be bothered to look it up, but it must be a lot of people.
It must be millions. And each and everyone of them is taking an irresponsible risk. They are quite literally in great danger of irreversible physical harm, or financial ruin, should anything accidental or medical deprive them of their ability to make their own decisions. Or move their legs.
Two years ago a neighbor of a friend of mine, living in Thailand, was involved in a serious accident when he was on a routine Visa Run across the border. The minibus driver fell asleep at the wheel and everybody ended up in hospital, or dead.
Because he had no insurance he was taken to a Thai public hospital. It’s the sort of place you wouldn’t take your pets for treatment. He is only a young lad too, around thirty-years-old I believe. As far as I know he is still there and his family back in England are financially ruined.
How many times do we read that story as back-packers and other travelers fall victim to something or another and the first we hear is when friends and family are crowdfunding on Facebook to try and beg money from strangers to get the poor fool home.
No travel insurance you see. A one-hundred pound insurance policy becomes a twenty-grand beg on Facebook. Overnight.
Another lad I know flicked his rental scooter’s stand down without noticing it was broken. It went straight through his foot. He spent three nights and £500 in Banglamung Hospital with that injury. He couldn’t walk, or swim, for the rest of his holiday. No medical insurance.
Finally, I read a story last year about an American couple travelling in Thailand. They were hill walking, although god knows why, and he slipped off a ridge one night. Probably served him right.
However, after a helicopter transfer to the mainland hospital, two weeks in a private room and several operations he was ready to be flown back to the States for further treatment.
His total bill came to around $1million dollars and, luckily for him, he did have medical insurance. The company paid all the bills before flying him home in a private air-ambulance. It was probably the nicest experience you can have with a broken back.
I remember reading that it was the lad’s first ever medical treatment. There is always a first one but not often is the first one a million dollar accident. I hope mine isn’t.
An annual travel insurance policy would have been the cheapest and most efficient way for ex-pats and travelers alike to cover themselves. A world-wide multi-stop yearly policy providing $20 million in medical expenses would only have cost around $200pa (At the time of writing – please do your own research into Annual Travel Insurance)
So to those 40% of overseas travelers who do not have any medical or emergency insurance just remember this. One day, without a doubt, you are going to need it, somehow.
Whether it is because some drunken idiot runs over your foot in a baht bus or because ill-health or Father Time catches up with us, we are all going to need medical care at some point in the future.
Being prepared for that will make life a little easier when it does, because there is no free NHS around these parts of the world.