And Now, A Completely Different Take on Travel Health Insurance: Getting Beaten Up By a Bouncer

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I was in Queenstown, New Zealand when I got into a fight with the bouncer. I swear to you—he started it! Either way, the specific events of that evening are irrecoverable due to the head trauma and the coma I spent the next 10 hours inhabiting.

I remember drifting in and out of consciousness, my eyes blinking wearily, the machines beeping steadily in the background. I tried to mumble my emergency contact details but the names and numbers just weren’t in the right order. I knew I was in the hospital, but it didn’t quite register.

After some time, a whole lot of painkillers and a few X-rays, I came to the realization that I was completely injured, dazed, and far from my home base.

I was afflicted, perplexed and high.

My iPhone was missing from my pocket and my jacket had been ripped into pieces. It occurred to me that I was not in possession of any sort of travel or health insurance, and I thought it best not to mention it.

Still, nobody asked for my insurance information.

An officer arrived at the hospital, asked me a few questions and, after a brief intermission at the station, he gave me a ride home. And that was it.

The hospital didn’t ask for payment and I never got a bill.

In fact, I never heard from them again (except for the radiologist who, coincidentally, came into my bar two days later)! They simply nursed me back to reasonable health and set me loose.

The officers charged this esteemed gentleman with some pretty hefty charges, and, with literally no work on my part, I received a not-quite-substantial-enough reparations payment.

A year later, he is still completing his community service, and I still haven’t received a bill.

I would like to say thank you, New Zealand, for your hospitality.

My head is feeling much better.

And a big bear hug to the lovely ladies at the hospital who mothered, monitored and mended me. I haven’t forgotten you.

But what does this mean for travel health insurance? This incident only further cements the idea that it’s a whole load of nonsense. Sure, I could see why it might be handy, but I’ve spent two and a half years away from home and I haven’t needed it once.

So what’s the point?

To be completely frank, I’m not really sure there is one.

UPDATE: My stance on travel health insurance has changed since this was written. I ALWAYS recommend purchasing travel health insurance before you go on a trip. Anything could happen (here’s an example).

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25 Responses to And Now, A Completely Different Take on Travel Health Insurance: Getting Beaten Up By a Bouncer

  1. Leah Travels (@L_e_a_h) August 30, 2012 at 5:02 am #

    Well, I’m certainly glad you’re ok. I’ve never bought travel insurance, but one of my very good friends always did. He was living abroad for many years in places like Kiev and Moscow. While in Kiev, he came down with what the doctors thought was a bad case of pneumonia. Turns out it was stage 4 lung cancer, and he was flown to Vienna on an emergency plane. Yeah, that was about $30k. Luckily for his family he had travel insurance. Sadly, he passed away six short months later. I pay car, health, house, and jewelry policy payments every month. And every month that something doesn’t happen, I kick myself. That’s money out the window. The second I drop any of it will be the time the proverbial shit hits the fan; I just know it. 🙂

    • Jeremy Foster August 31, 2012 at 11:02 am #

      Very sorry to hear about your friend, Leah. A bill for 30 grand would NOT be my first choice of things to receive in the mail. I guess it all evens out in the end–some of us pay for insurance and use it, some of us pay for it and don’t.

      I see things the same way, though. Had I been making insurance payments for the past two and a half years, I’d be kicking myself for it…you’re literally spending money for no reason. But I guess you’re helping the next person with a $30k medical bill!

  2. Bobbi Lee Hitchon August 30, 2012 at 6:28 am #

    Wow that is very very lucky!! First, that you came out okay (sounds serious). Second, that you never got a bill. That’s one of my worst nightmares. Having something serious happen on the road-not the thing that happens, but the bills that follow. That’s bad, isn’t it? I don’t know if I agree with you about health insurance though. I do recommend people have it just in case. Though I’ve never had anything serious happen to me on the road and had to use it, so I can’t say whether it is good or not.

    • Jeremy Foster August 31, 2012 at 11:08 am #

      Very lucky indeed. I’ve heard some horror stories in which the only saving grace was travel insurance, but to consider all the travelers who have the insurance and don’t use it…well, it just seems like an unnecessary expense. Maybe if I found myself in a less Westernized country I’d be willing to reconsider.

  3. Kimberly Wright August 30, 2012 at 4:45 am #

    My home country of NZ – what an amazingly beautiful place – especially Queenstown. Sad to read about what happened although pleased the guy was caught and is still working off his community service.

    With regards to travel insurance I’d have to say it depends on where your travelling. In New Zealand hospital costs would have been incurred by your stay however either it was covered by ACC – New Zealand’s Accident Insurance that covers all people in New Zealand – doesn’t matter if your from NZ or just visiting you are covered for any accident (find out more here http://www.acc.co.nz/making-a-claim/am-i-covered/index.htm) or it is also possible the bills went straight to the Police whom then had the guy who was charged pay your hospital costs?

    Whilst I was in South East Asia I ended up getting sick and was unable to seek healthcare in Cambodia as healthcare there is of a very low standard. We had to fly to Bangkok and seek treatment at a Bangkok hospital. In this situation my bills incurred for flights to Bangkok, accommodation, all medical costs and return flights when I was well to continue my travel were all paid by my travel insurance company, coming to well over a thousand dollars. In this case I was extremely pleased to have travel insurance.

    So I really do think it depends on where your travelling – and lucky for you New Zealand tax payers take good care of their visitors 🙂

    • Jeremy Foster August 31, 2012 at 10:53 am #

      Yes, to be fair, the lifestyle in New Zealand is wonderful and I always felt looked after while I was there. Had this happened somewhere else, and had I come down with some terrible illness, I might very well be singing a different tune.

      Considering my long-term traveling lifestyle, I question if it would be worthwhile, though. Even if I had to cough up a thousand bucks, that’s probably less than I would have spent on insurance for the past two and a half years!

      Lucky me, indeed.

  4. gabi klaf August 31, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

    look how it all worked out so well for you jeremy! really happy about this! go you man! cheers.

    • Jeremy Foster September 1, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

      In the end, yes, it did. That wasn’t really my first thought at the time, though!

  5. Anneliese September 2, 2012 at 11:22 am #

    I question the necessity of getting travel insurance as well. In South America, most simple hospital procedures would only set you back about $15-30. Of course you need to get insurance in case you get into any trouble in a remote area and had to be evacuated but I would never get expensive top cover travel insurance because I don’t see the point of it.

    Glad to hear you’re ok!

    • Jeremy Foster September 4, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

      Yeah, evacuation insurance is definitely a must for certain places, even for taking part in certain activities. But other than that, yeah, I can’t say I fully see the point! But maybe I’m just being naive!

  6. Simon September 5, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    Is this for real? Geez, I’m sorry to hear about such an awful experience in my home country! I’m pleased that the hospital at least made it a bit bearable. Still, travel insurance can’t hurt if it’s cheap enough – especially in less developed countries (not like NZ).

    • Jeremy Foster September 6, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

      For real, indeed. It’s OK, though, because despite the bad experience, I had a multitude of awesome ones! You make a good point, Simon. It certainly can’t hurt if it’s cheap enough. And it generally is!

  7. Devon Mills September 6, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    Glad you’re OK! I have to disagree on the value of travel insurance. My sprained ankle in Thailand wound up costing more than $4,000 (yes, FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS) and every cent was covered by World Nomads. Certainly worth the few hundred bucks I spent on the policy!!

    To be fair, the actual expenses I incurred in Thailand amounted to less than $200. I incurred the big bills after I flew back to the U.S. a few days after my injury and had to get a sonogram of my leg at a San Francisco emergency room to make sure I didn’t have life-threatening blood clots. Sonograms/ER visits ain’t cheap.

    • Jeremy Foster September 8, 2012 at 4:11 am #

      Thanks, Devon! Me too!

      I remember seeing that you had sprained your ankle. Glad that you got yourself seen and treated. You seem to be doing better now.

      You make a very good point–one which I hadn’t even considered…the followup visits! Should something bad happen, and should I end up evacuated and back in the USA, a visit to a specialist could cost me a serious arm and a leg (hopefully not literally).

      Incidentally, I woke up the day after this was published to find an email from my mother. She bought me health insurance.

      Gah.

  8. Heather Foster October 5, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    Gah! Are you trying to give your poor sister a panic attack?! I’m trying not to yell at my computer right now since I know that won’t do anything, ha. I’m also really glad mom bought you travel health insurance…you are really freaking lucky that this happened in NZ and that they have a health system that is good. But most countries that is not the case! And I’m going to hazard a guess here that your choice to not have insurance was not a decision based on thorough research on the NZ health care system, so I am going to have to disagree with your assertion that it’s a waste. Depending where you were and why you were hurt you could have been completely, royally, effed for the rest of your life. Medical expenses are the single largest cause of bankruptcy. What would you have done if you had gotten a bill for that day in the hospital…I’m sure it would’ve been minimum $10 grand just for the one day. I guess that’s what insurance is though…a balancing of risk. It’s a question of are you going to take that risk, and to someone like me I’d say that’s a pretty scary proposition.

    Oh yeah, and I work in health care policy, remember 😉 Just sayin. I still love you though!

    • Jeremy Foster October 5, 2012 at 5:41 pm #

      Maybe not THOROUGH research, but I did know that, being in a country like New Zealand, I would be well looked after. I did look into getting travel health insurance, but I decided not to get it.

      You do make a valid point, though. In other countries it would be a necessity. I’ve heard quite a few stories from quite a few people who have found themselves in very compromising positions and have been lucky to have their insurance cover their costs.

      Your expertise, and love, is appreciated 😛

  9. Chris from medicalaidsite.co.za October 30, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

    I don’t know how common this saying is all over the world, but we have a saying in South Africa, “Murphy’s Law”.

    To confirm what Leah said, while having health insurance, nothing will happen, not even a sprained ankle but as soon as you cancel your health insurance or don’t have it that is when all the bad things happen. I personally recommend having some sort of travel insurance just to be safe than sorry in the future.

    Great to read that the Kiwi’s has taken great care of you and I personally belief the guilty party had to pay some of the medical expenses.

    Regards,
    Chris

    • Jeremy Foster November 2, 2012 at 11:17 pm #

      Haha yes, I’m familiar with Murphy’s Law! It’s actually quite well known. I’m seeing more and more, especially after writing this post, that it can be a very useful thing. I now have a travel health insurance plan of my own (thanks, Mom)!

      I’m hoping that New Zealand didn’t pay for everything and that the fine, young gentleman that I spoke of had to cover at least some of the expenses!

  10. Jeremy Foster November 2, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    Funny how that works, huh? To be fair, I recently had a situation in which having travel health insurance really paid off. Will be writing about it soon!

  11. John August 28, 2015 at 5:26 am #

    Being a kiwi it is as others state and that if you have an accident in NZ then no worries basically. However, if you have a pre existing illness it is another matter. It is the same in the UK if you are from overseas and have an accident the National Health Service covers everything, no cost to you. I know as my mother in law fell down the steps of the Titanic Museum in Belfast and broke her shoulder in two places. She is Canadian and paid absolutely nothing as it was an accident. She was shocked as if she had done it in the USA your looking at tens of thousands of dollars. I guess it comes down to where you are travelling, we spent a year going RTW and had travel insurance and happily did not have to use it except for some lost luggage.

    • Jeremy Scott Foster September 1, 2015 at 3:52 pm #

      That’s definitely one the biggest lessons I’ve learned about travel health insurance–it depends on where you are traveling to. But it always helps to have on hand, because it’s not THAT expensive, and anything could happen.

  12. silvia junaidi November 12, 2016 at 8:27 pm #

    glad to hear you were fine. I want to ask you some questions, because i’m on research for planning to go to New Zealand with family. I was a bit scared when I read The incident occurred in queenstwon, one of the cities that I wished to visit. does it mean that a visit there is not so safe to bring children age 7 years? if you buy travel insurance has it reimbeurse system or you really are not charged at all when you had to be hospitalized? Because in my country Indonesia, many travel insurance has reimbeurse system, so you have to first pay at that country, after you comeback to Indonesia so you can claim the issue

    • Jeremy Scott Foster November 12, 2016 at 10:50 pm #

      Hi Silvia. New Zealand is VERY safe. In fact, it’s one of the safest countries I’ve traveled to, and Queenstown is very children-friendly 🙂

      As with all travel insurance, you must pay first, and then you have to submit a claim to the insurance company who will (hopefully) reimburse you. In this case, it was a medical emergency, and emergency care is covered without cost.

      I recommend travel insurance in all circumstances. World Nomads is the best.

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