MedJet: Medical Transport Membership, Why Everyone Should Have It

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Medjet Evacuation
A Medjet client being evacuated from the field.

Medjet is an Affordable and Vital Service for Travelers Who Need a Medevac

By Max Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Editor

John Gobbels of Medjet.
John Gobbels, COO of MedJet.

We first heard about Medjet when our good friends and colleagues Deb and Dave, who run the very popular travel site, The Planet D, had to have Dave evacuated from Antarctica when he broke his back.  The story was concerning because we really love Dave, and also because it proved how invaluable a membership from Medjet can turn out to be.

We wanted to provide more information to our readers, many of whom take similar trips to distant places where the threat of needing medical evacuation coverage is real.

On board an evacuation plane with Medjet.
On board an evacuation plane with Medjet.

We interviewed John Gobbels, Chief Operating Officer of Medjet to find out the latest in formation about this vital service for travelers.

Their headquarters are in Birmingham, Alabama. He has been with Medjet since 2006. Before that, he spent over 23 years in pre-hospital service, Air-Medical Transfer, and law enforcement roles.

Tell us about how Medjet fared during the pandemic. How soon into the crisis in 2020 did it really start to affect your business and your customers?  

We were, of course, immediately impacted by Covid. We had just added “pandemic” benefits to our MedjetHorizon membership in 2017, so we had MedjetHorizon members stuck all over the world that our security partners had to help get home. And with all travel at a dead-stop, things slowed down significantly.

As the pandemic wore on, and destinations like Mexico and the Caribbean opened back up for travel, we were able to source enough air ambulances with the specialized isolation pods and crews trained in their use (and all the governmental protocols for transporting Covid-positive patients…as you can imagine, there were a LOT of rules), to become the first company of our kind to add Covid-19 transport benefits. We added them at no additional cost to our members, because our members’ health and safety is always our number one concern. Those benefits are now global, and we still have not raised our prices.

Medjet Headquarters in Birmingham AL
Medjet Headquarters in Birmingham AL

Business is Growing

Believe it or not, even with overall travel numbers still down, our business is growing. Lately, in some sales categories, we’ve been setting new company records…and we’ve been in business for 30 years. Covid has really pointed out to people how vulnerable they are when they travel, how important being able to get moved to a hospital at home if you do get sick, and how valuable a Medjet membership is in that situation. 

With the uptick in crime in a lot of tourist destinations and the recent geopolitical strife in Eastern Europe, they’re also more concerned about their safety. Our MedjetHorizon membership, which has security and crisis response benefits as well as medical transport benefits, has become our fastest-growing membership type. 

Are there different types of memberships people can get, similar to the Travel Insurance we are familiar with?  

We have two basic types of membership, MedjetAssist and MedjetHorizon.

  • MedjetAssist ~ provides hospital-to-hospital air medical transport. We get you moved from a hospital you’re “stuck” in to a hospital of your choice at home. Anytime you are hospitalized more than 150 miles from your residence, whether you’re traveling domestically or internationally, your benefits kick in. 
  • MedjetHorizon ~ has the air medical transport benefits plus a full suite of travel security benefits providing 24/7 access to security experts, and boots-on-the-ground response and evacuation (if that’s what’s necessary) for safety issues like violent crime, political threats and terrorism, natural disaster, disappearance, kidnapping for ransom and more. With the situation in Ukraine, and elevated crime levels (even in places formerly considered very safe) people are a little more worried about safety these days and this membership definitely offers extra peace of mind.
  • Both MedjetAssist and MedjetHorizon come in a few duration options: 
    • Short-Term (8-day, 15-day, 21-day or 30-day memberships), 
    • Annual (allowing as much travel as you like but only 90 consecutive days out of country on any one trip), 
    • Expat180 and Expat365 (allowing for 180 or 365 consecutive days abroad per trip), 
    • Student/Faculty (up to 140 consecutive days abroad per trip if studying or teaching abroad) 

Tell us the differences between travel insurance, say from Allianz, and membership in Medjet. Give us an idea of the costs for different age travelers, and is it a year-long or how long are the policies in effect?

In a nutshell, the medical evacuation benefits of travel insurance are only meant to get you to the nearest hospital capable of stabilizing you and treating you. What they typically term “nearest acceptable facility” (“acceptable” to them, not necessarily to you…). They’ll only move you further if they deem it “medically necessary”, and typically wait to move you home (repatriation) commercially once you’ve recovered in the hospital they selected. 

That’s actually very important coverage, along with trip cancellation, trip interruption and medical bills coverage, and we always recommend people have insurance. Medjet picks up where insurance’s medevac coverage ends. We get people moved to the hospital of their choice AT HOME, regardless of whether the hospital they want to leave is “acceptable” and regardless of “medical necessity”. It boils down to choice.

We frequently say “travel insurance is the cake of your coverage, Medjet is the icing”. Our members like the icing. They want the choice of being moved home to be theirs, not an insurance company making that important choice.

View from a Medjet airplane.
View from a Medjet airplane.

Hospital to Hospital Transport by Medjet

Short-Term Medjet memberships start at $99 for individuals, $199 for Family (2 adults and up to 5 dependent children).

Annual Medjet Memberships start at $295/yr Individual, $399/yr Family.

Diamond Memberships, for members ages 75-84, are only available on an annual basis and start at $450/yr Individual, $665/yr Family.

What was the most expensive medical transport you have ever had to do for a Medjet customer?  

The most expensive in recent years was for a paragliding crash near India. A single transport from that region can cost up to $180,000. We don’t have any “adventure travel” exclusions, so we get quite a few surfing, skiing, hang gliding/paragliding, and motorcycle injuries every year from distant and exotic locations. 

COVID-positive transports require specialized equipment, and specially trained crews to use them, so transporting a COVID-positive patient is also expensive (and takes a little more time to clear due to the added paperwork involved).

Tell us some of the details of the times when people got the absolute best value possible because they were covered.  We are very interested in getting three great examples that are recent that we can include in our feature story.

The best value is always the $150,000 – $180,000 transport from Australia or Asia or Indonesia that we do for people on Short Term 8-day memberships. That’s $99 that they paid versus the $150,000 to $180,000 that we paid to get them moved home! If you’re a member, we pay for everything involved in moving you bedside-to-bedside: the ambulance ride to the airfield, the air ambulance, the crew, the fuel, all medical supplies needed during transfer, and the ambulance on the home side to take you to your home hospital. We make the arrangements and pay for all of it. There are no deductibles or claim forms, you’ll never see a bill. All you ever pay is your membership fee. 

Even the shorter trips can be expensive though. Last month, we did a transport for a member from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to Bend, Oregon. That one was $45,800. They had paid $99 for an 8-day Short Term membership to not get stuck in a Mexican hospital.

What about Travel Insurance? Doesn’t that Cover all of this?

We are hospital-to-hospital medical/ transport only. While we have no “acceptable facility” clauses, nor “medical necessity” clauses, you MUST be hospitalized and require continued hospitalization to qualify for transport. 

This is why we always recommend Travel Insurance as well as Medjet. The medevac benefits of your Travel Insurance policy are responsible for getting you airlifted to the nearest hospital capable of treating your illness or injury. Once you are stabilized, we move you that longer distance home.

What part of the U.S. are most of the Medjet clients coming from? Is there an average age and anything else that is typical for a Medjet client?   What is the fastest-growing segment of the population that is using Medjet, and has this changed over the past few years?

As you can imagine, Medjet is most popular in the top 30 markets ~ primarily because there are more people with easy access to international airports, and a lot of our corporate accounts are in the bigger cities. So the Northeast (NY, Boston, DC) and the West Coast (LA, SF, Portland, Seattle) are big markets, plus Chicago and Atlanta. We do have members from all over the country though! 

Our corporate members are typically younger ~ people still working and traveling for work a lot. Our consumer members tend to be a little bit older ~ they have the time and the resources to travel more, and are (generally speaking) a bit more concerned about their health and vulnerabilities while traveling. Younger people tend to think they’re impervious, although COVID has definitely changed that, and we are seeing a lot more younger people signing up these days, especially families.

What are the most common questions people ask you about Medjet and tell us both the questions, and the answers you provide.

  1. Q: I already have travel insurance (through work, purchase or credit card benefits)…why would I need Medjet?    A: Those types of insurance are only geared toward getting you to the “nearest acceptable” facility. NOT all the way home just because you want to be moved home. That’s what WE do.
  2. Q: Will you transport me home if I test positive for COVID but am not hospitalized? A: No. COVID transports work just like all of our other transports…if you’re hospitalized and require continued hospitalization, then we can move you. We are, however, available to help you sort out options if you test positive but are not hospitalized. If you really want to get home and are willing to pay for the air ambulance yourself, we can also arrange and execute that for you. It’s possible, it’s just not paid for under membership benefits.
  3. Q: Do I have to enroll prior to travel, or can I purchase it while traveling? A: You must enroll prior to travel. Otherwise, people would just enroll from a hospital bed, and pay $99 for a $180,000 transport… That’s hardly a good business model!

Can you describe a few of the hospitals where Medjet clients have been dropped off in different parts of the world and how they compare to the hospitals where Medjet brought injured or ill clients?  

There’s a video on our website (Medjet.com/Testimonials) about a woman in Egypt. She slipped at the pyramids and landed in a hospital in Giza. She noticed there were so many cats, inside the hospital, roaming around and nobody cared. Her husband later found out the cats were actually being used as rodent control. They were very, very happy to be moved to their hospital at home in Los Angeles.

Another member slipped on a river cruise in Europe and was taken to a hospital in Vienna. While the hospital itself was very nice and very clean, it was a socialized medicine system and inpatient beds were very scarce, so they got moved to different wards every day, with a different doctor every day, some of whom spoke English and some who did not. Her care lacked continuity, discussions were difficult, and who was getting worse and worse. They just wanted to get to doctors at home, and once we got her there her condition improved dramatically. 

I think the worst we had was a member who broke his neck surfing in Nicaragua. The hospital in Managua, once realizing how serious the injury was, not only said they couldn’t treat him they actually then asked them to leave! His nephew made a video of the whole ordeal and it’s heart-wrenching. We got him moved to one of the top spinal surgery centers in Florida (they lived in North Carolina but you’re able to choose what hospital you want to go to anywhere in your home country, you’re not limited to just your “home” hospital). 

What is a situation where someone might think that they need Medjet but in fact, their situation might not actually be covered?

We have very few exclusions, and no pre-existing exclusions for members under age 75, but there are a few things we don’t do. We can’t send a crew into a country marked Level 4 for war or extreme violence, like Syria, Iraq, Haiti or, now, the Ukraine or Russia. We get a few detached retina calls each year, but since it’s an outpatient process, benefits don’t apply. We keep our rules and regulations easily accessible on our website, so they’re easy to find and read prior to purchasing a membership. We WANT prospective members to read them.

Do you have any suggestions about how to choose the best travel insurance policies that would best complement a Medjet membership?

We are not insurance and don’t have an insurance partner, so there’s not any one company or type that we recommend. People’s needs vary, and offerings vary by state, so what’s best for someone is best left to their travel advisor or insurance broker, or one of the great travel insurance comparison sites like Squaremouth or InsureMyTrip.com. We do, however, recommend they at least take out the medical component of travel insurance, at least $50,000 in benefits, and make sure it covers COVID.

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