By Russ and Tiña De Maris
It’s your dream trip – traveling across the country in your RV, seeing those places you’ve thought about for years. And it’s all good – until that little pump in the middle of your chest decides to start acting up in the middle of nowhere. After the paramedics get you to the isolated “regional” hospital, the doctors twist the knob that turns that dream trip into a nightmare. You need skilled care – the kind that they can’t provide you. You’ll need to be air-ambulanced to a bigger facility.
If you’re like many other RVers, you may say, “Relax, I’ve got Good Sam’s TravelAssist coverage. They’ll pay for my air ambulance, and if for some reason I can’t drive the rig home, they’ll pay somebody to get it there for me.”
Maybe yes, maybe no. Here’s the real-life “adventure” of Good Sam TravelAssist member Kathy Mutchler, an RVer and Workcamper. Seems that Kathy was doing fine until her own health kicked up, landing her in a hospital in Mammoth Lakes, California. Admitted to the emergency room with fever, chills and shaking, doctors also determined Mutchler had an extremely low potassium level. All added together, the situation left Kathy in a state that she describes as “drifting in and out of consciousness.”
The doctors at the Mammoth Lakes hospital diagnosed Kathy’s condition as a severe kidney infection – one that did not respond to antibiotic therapy. Her medical team decided that their local facility in the less-than-8000-people town just didn’t have the resources to properly treat her, and recommended she be flown by air ambulance to Reno, 140 miles away. Did Kathy’s TravelAssist plan from Good Sam cover the evacuation? It took a few days to figure that out.
Kathy Mutchler was loaded on the flight and before the doors could close her mate, Kathy O’Hara, showed up at the air field. When the air ambulance landed in Reno, O’Hara dutifully phoned the TravelAssist center to let them know what had happened. The center assigned a case number and said they’d be in touch. They were – a few days later, when TravelAssist’s representative phoned to say that since Mutchler had not met the terms of her agreement with Good Sam’s program, she would be responsible for the cost of the air ambulance bill, to the tune of $71,000.
What terms had the Good Sam member failed to meet? The four-page, fine print “membership plan description” spells it out, somewhere in the midst of the 4,870 word agreement. “TRAVELASSIST must arrange and WE must approve all arrangements for the services described and defined in this section to be covered at no cost to YOU. *Expenses incurred without our intervention or assistance are not covered.” It seems that somehow, when the practically hallucinating Kathy Mutchler was told she needed to be medevacked to Reno, she failed to call TravelAssist in advance. The “expenses incurred” became her responsibility.
In practice, read the fine print: “TRAVELASSIST will coordinate and WE will pay for a medically supervised evacuation that TRAVELASSIST determines to be capable of providing appropriate medical treatment.” [Emphasis added.] According to this same contract, the company’s “Medical Director” will obtain copies of the member’s medical records, then make the call – without necessarily consulting with the treating docs where the member is hospitalized. Don’t call in advance, you pay your own bill.
Mutchler found the whole thing unacceptable, and appealed not only to the TravelAssist program, but also to a prominent Los Angeles consumer advocate at the LA Times, David Lazarus. Lazarus tried reaching out to Marcus Lemonis, the Good Sam CEO, but got a response from a company minion who “described TravelAssist not as insurance, but as ‘an advocacy service’ that helps coordinate care for Good Sam members if they run into trouble on the road.” He also told Lazarus, “TravelAssist ‘isnʼt a reimbursement plan.’ In other words, the coverage is based on TravelAssist making all the arrangements on a Good Sam memberʼs behalf, rather than paying the member back for any expenses incurred.”
And yes, it’s all there in the nearly 5,000-word description, the same description that Marcus Lemonis recommends you “Take a moment to familiarize Yourself with the membership details so You fully understand how it works.” Take a moment? Take about 20 minutes and a magnifying glass. You may find a few things that might surprise you. For example, the plan helps out when your medical condition might affect Fido or Fifi, as spelled out under “Emergency Pet Housing and/or Pet Return Assistance.” Will Good Sam get your pets home when you can’t? They will “assist in coordinating arrangements” for boarding or return, but you pay the cost at the time.
How about a ground ambulance? Maybe you don’t need to be evacuated by air, but do need to get to a hospital or between hospitals because of your medical situation. Provided you are TRAVELING AWAY FROM HOME [their capitalization], you may be reimbursed for up to $200 of the costs of ground ambulance transport. Better make sure your own health insurance will pick up the rest of the tab, because just a seven-minute trip across town in an ambulance can rack up a huge bill – just ask, we know that by personal experience.
But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’ve been hospitalized and contact Good Sam’s TravelAssist BEFORE you are transported by air ambulance. You’re ready to let them coordinate your transport to the hospital of their choice. Are there any other pitfalls to look for? There’s a long list of exclusions, and among them, “INJURY or ILLNESS caused by or contributed to by the use of drugs or alcohol.” And if your transportation is required by reason of a psychological or emotional problem, you’ll be on your own. In what some might call “extreme sports” including (but not limited to) skydiving, hang gliding, rock climbing (that requires the use of guides or ropes), or bungee jumping – medical problems relating to those sports aren’t covered either. And if you or your covered loved one attempts suicide, not only will you suffer the heartache of dealing with that, you’ll have to figure out transportation for them on your own.
On the surface, the plan gives some pretty desirable benefits. Return of your RV if you can’t drive. Medical transportation to an appropriate facility. Return air flights home after you get out of the hospital and can’t drive yourself, and the rest of your traveling party. All these things and more, for less than a hundred bucks a couple, per year. The plan may be just what you need, but for heaven’s sake, READ EVERY ONE OF THOSE 4,800-PLUS WORDS before you sign up.
As of press-time, Kathy Mutchler might just have an “out” from that $71,000 air ambulance bill. It seems her health insurance plan is contemplating picking up the tab. Still no word on her appeal to Good Sam.