Nov 1, 2009

Product Review: Added Insurance

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

Thirty-nine years ago, I began my collection of protective gear. I started with a helmet, which promptly proved its value when I did an unintentional headstand on a large pyramid-shaped rock. A while later, I started wearing calf-high linemans' boots instead of hiking boots or sneakers. I followed that brilliant triumph with denim coveralls (no kidding!) with factory-installed knee and hip pads. Later, I moved up to tear-off goggles, hockey-style shoulder pads, real motocross gloves, High Point racing boots, early Malcolm Smith racing pants and armored jacket, and racing gloves.

The thing that I discovered about real riding gear is that the more of it I owned, the more experimental I became on the track and trail. That might sound like I was only taking extra risks, but I was also experimenting with my riding style, control techniques, and exploring the connection between myself and my motorcycle and doing it with less fear. Fear is not a useful component of a learning environment. The more we are afraid, the more conservative we become, the fewer options we have when exposed to hazards, and the less we learn from riding experiences. My protective gear allowed me the luxury of feeling confident in moments where I'd previously felt exposed to danger. On the practical side, when those "educational moments" turned into a crash, the gear did its job and protected me from serious injury. If today's chest protection had been around in the 1970s, I'd have probably managed to avoid broken ribs and busted collarbones.

All this brings me to a new kind of protection I used on a trip to Alaska in 2007. While studying what others had experienced in Alaska and on adventure tours, I stumbled on an article about a serious deficiency in medical insurance. Mainly, most US medical insurance providers only cover basic doctor visits in the 50 states and rarely pay for medical evacuation from remote areas. Most policies don't reimburse you for emergency medical expenses outside of the US. Since evacuation can cost as much as $50,000 and there appears to be no upper limit to hospital bills, an adventure tour could be a lot more of a financial adventure than most of us can stand. The more I learned about the crap we call "medical insurance," the more I realized I needed additional protection from a bankrupting accident and visit to a hospital; US or Canadian. That comforting Canadian national medical system doesn't apply to non-taxpaying, non-residents. Everyone else has to pay for a visit to a Canadian hospital and those unprotected visits aren't much cheaper in Canada than they are in the US.

There is a type of insurance that appears to be designed for adventure touring; it is called "Emergency Medical Evacuation Insurance," also known as "Supplemental Medical Coverage for Travelers." This kind of policy can provide coverage for emergency evacuation to the nearest medical facility. It will pay your "reasonable travel" expenses for a spouse or caregiver who may need to come to where you are hospitalized until you can travel home. When you are ready to travel again, the insurance will pay for the cost of returning home.

I ended up going with MEDEX (, but there are several companies providing various levels of coverage for a variety of costs. Some other possibilities are:
In 2007, I paid about $300 for 30 days of coverage. When I crashed 100 miles north of the Artic Circle on the Dempster Highway, one option available to me was to ask a truck driver who stopped to provide assistance to radio in a helicopter to fly me to a hospital. I was on the 9th day of a 30 tour and I was pretty sure, in my crashing past, I'd suffered through each of the injuries caused by the Dempster crash. Over the years, I've become a rehab semi-expert and while I was testing my limbs and bodily functions I was figuring out what I'd need to do to get better fast. When I made the decision to turn around, keep riding, and head for the semi-civilization of Dawson City and a hot bath, I had the security of knowing that if I was wrong needed medical attention, I could call it in at any time. My Emergency Medical Insurance was like a piece of gear that added confidence and security. Without it, fear would have had more control on my decision and I might have missed out on the next 20 days of the adventure of my life.

The next year, when I rode from home to the tip of Nova Scotia, I bought another 30 day policy for that trip. The price wasn't much different than it had been the previous year. To the surprise of everyone who knows me, I didn't have a single moment of excitement on that trip. There aren't a lot of interesting dirt roads out east, though.

When friends and family tell you that you are crazy for riding your bike from Timbuktu to Bolivia, you might have to concede that point. But you don't have to be stupid. You can armor up to minimize the damage when things go wrong and you can be prepared to deal with all sorts of disasters and distractions. "Emergency Medical Evacuation Insurance" is one more way you can put some padding between yourself and catastrophe.


Anonymous said...

I very much take your point about fear, and have used it myself in arguing for improved gravel traps and other safety features. As Mat Mladin has many times said, the more dangerous the venue, the more conservatively must any sensible person ride. I used to propose a "thought experiment" in which each rider had a mythical helium balloon in his razor-back. At the onset of any serious get-off, this would inflate and lift the would-be crash victim to a low altitude where he would float harmless until a safety official with a BB gun brought him gently back to earth. My idea was that thus guaranteed an even break, riders could become more experimental in their approach to quicker lap times.

But even experienced journalists who should know better repeatedly criticize modern racing as "not exciting enough". This is their code word for "not like 500 racing", which means Wayne Rainey forever in a wheelchair, and lots of riders breaking bones because their violent and inherently unrideable machines threw them off. Crowds loved it. Kentucky was the last state to abandon public hangings (1936), their Governor asking the legislature to do so, saying that otherwise Kentuckians would be seen by the rest of the nation as "bloodthirsty ignoramuses".

Is this what race spectators want?


Dave Clark said...

Hmmm... as an Official Old Guy, I better check out what Medicare and its Supplement offers. Even if I'm just up at someplace tame -- Death Valley Park HQ (with its 5-Star Hotel the Furnace Creek Inn), what happens if I need that Helicopter or an Ambulance to get me back to Irvine?

Thanks for posting that, Geezer