Days before Rick Wohlin and his wife Ruth were supposed to leave on their dream vacation to Sicily, a representative from his travel company, Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), called Wohlin with some bad news. For some reason, the company had erroneously booked his return flight to the U.S. from the wrong city in Italy, a problem the company had flagged in their system months prior, but failed to fix.
And if the company had fixed it, Wohlin wouldn’t need the help of a consumer advocate. Instead of arranging flights with a single layover as anticipated, OAT’s new airline booking had Wohlin changing planes four times to get home, on flights spanning more than 24 hours.
The proposed fix threw Wohlin into a tailspin that landed him in his doctor’s office. Wohlin, a retired police officer and Vietnam Veteran who has suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) over the years, reported intense feelings of anxiety at the idea of having to endure a marathon series of flights that would make even seasoned travelers weary. The fumbling of his booking, the resulting insurance claim denial and the outcome of his case leave us wondering why mental health conditions are often not covered by travel insurance policies, and what can be done about it.
As Wohlin’s anxiety increased, his physician recommended that he not travel, for both his own safety and for the safety of others. According to Wohlin, when his anxiety is at its worst, he can experience seizures, which are not easily managed far from home.
Wohlin canceled his trip the day before his planned departure. And he had purchased a $1,200 TripMate travel protection policy that he thought would cover his cancellation. It did, and at the same time, it didn’t.
TripMate said that unless a hospitalization occurred, under the policy, it cannot issue a cash refund for his claim. In this case, $9,700 was on the line.
The insurance game is one of assumption of risk, and travel insurance policies typically exclude mental health conditions and complications to keep costs down. Many mental health advocates find these exclusions to be discriminatory, in particular because severe anxiety can often produce physical symptoms, as in Wohlin’s case.
The TripMate policy did, however, have a “Cancel For Any Reason” provision, which entitled Wohlin to a voucher for use within in a year on any of the dozens of trips offered by Overseas Adventure Travel or its partner, Grand Circle Travel.
Although he was unhappy with the company’s refusal to issue a cash refund, Wohlin and his wife were determined to find a trip that worked for them — or lose the entire amount paid.
But this time, Wohlin felt more comfortable traveling to a location closer to home. And when travel to Cuba became a possibility, he decided to go for it.
However despite the terms of the voucher specifying that it could be used on any Overseas Adventure Travel or Grand Circle Travel trip, the company wouldn’t let him book a trip to Cuba. According to a company spokeswoman, although trips to Cuba are advertised on the company website, they are actually operated by a partner non-profit organization that cannot redeem vouchers.
Wohlin felt frustrated that his case was at an impasse. At one point he even spoke to an attorney about the undisclosed limitations of the voucher. And by then, the end of the one-year validity was fast approaching.
I reached out to OAT on Wohlin’s behalf, and the company extended the validity of the voucher in order to accommodate a new booking. Working with a reservations specialist, Wohlin and his wife ultimately used the voucher to book a railway trip across Canada, and the couple looks forward to taking their trip together.
Although the Affordable Care Act and the Mental Health Parity Act protections require insurers to cover mental health treatment as they would other medical claims, these laws don’t apply to travel insurance policies.
Travel insurance can be a smart investment, especially for big ticket, once-in-a-lifetime trips. When shopping for travel insurance, be sure to check the policy’s fine print for exclusions and consider which situations you may potentially encounter. A reputable travel policy comparison sites, like Squaremouth.com and InsureMyTrip.com, may be able to guide you to a policy that fits your specific needs.