Insurance changes give U employees extra aid while traveling

Lee Billings

When most people travel, medical care is often low on their list of worries. But if a traveler suffers serious illness or injury far from home, the situation can quickly turn grim given possible language barriers or inadequate treatment facilities.

For University employees who travel out of state or overseas, a recent change in their health insurance will help them with medical emergencies.

Employees now have access to a 24-hour telephone hotline that lists the best medical facilities in any given area or situation.

The insurance changes, effective in 2003, will also cover University employees who venture more than 150 miles from home, according to a University Web site.

Jennifer Schulz, an Office of International Programs spokeswoman, said the insurance coverage itself has not changed.

“(It’s) a service that you call – they’ll help you find Ö a doctor, even pay for it in the interim,” she said.

“The one new feature we have is repatriation,” she said. “So if you die, they’ll ship your body back.”

The Office of International Programs, which proposed the plan to the Employee Benefits Advisory Committee in 2002, began taking bids from different insurance vendors last fall.

The committee also asked bidders to address several hypothetical medical emergencies.

“Basically if you were injured someplace abroad, what would a particular vendor do in that situation?” asked Tonya Soli, an employee benefits analyst in the University’s Office of Human Resources.

Out of six vendors, MEDEX Assistance Corporation impressed the committee most with its “very quick” and accurate responses for each scenario, Soli said.

University law professor Fred Morrison – Employee Benefits Advisory Committee chairman – said he supported the change after tending to his wife’s medical crisis on a European business trip years ago.

Surprisingly, the new benefits come at no cost to employees, University officials said.

“The University offers MEDEX’s travel assistance program at no additional cost to its active employees and their dependents,” said Denice Huggins, MEDEX’s account executive for the University. “This is a great benefit that the University offers that most employers do not.”

Huggins would not disclose how much the University program costs, but said the rate was “very low” due to the large number of employees covered.

“My colleagues and I view this as a really significant benefit for faculty and staff,” said Eugene Allen, Office of International Programs executive director. “We’re just delighted with this.”

Lee Billings welcomes comments at [email protected]