When you take meetings and incentives overseas, attendees' little problems (broken eyeglasses) can seem big, and the big problems (emergency surgery) can be even worse. If the hotel concierge is the person who comes to mind first for a medical referral, you could be asking for trouble.
Although most insurers pay “customary and reasonable” hospital costs for travelers abroad, most aren't prepared to find English-speaking dentists, certify the sanitary conditions of a particular clinic, or help out if you lose your prescription medication. Even more rare is the policy that covers medical evacuation costs or, God forbid, reparations of mortal remains. If an air ambulance is needed, expect a bill easily in excess of $10,000.
Companies that specialize in emergency medical assistance have grown to fill this void. The companies are not insurers — they don't pay the bills — rather they provide safety and health information, make referrals to doctors whom they have “credentialed,” coordinate medical care, organize and pay for emergency evacuations, and provide a laundry list of other emergency and nonemergency services.
Typically these companies — notably International SOS, headquartered in Singapore with offices in Philadelphia, and MEDEX, based in Baltimore — have products aimed at leisure travelers as well as corporations. Last year, however, George Morrissey, an ex-executive from St. John, U.S.V.I., decided to get into the business as a value-added reseller of the MEDEX service, packaging the product for the meeting and incentive market under the name Worldwide Emergency Services.
Meeting planners, Morrissey believed, needed a service priced for their market, so he negotiated to sell MEDEX assistance for trips as short as five days (typically, the minimum is 10 to 15 days) priced for attendees younger than the typical retired leisure traveler. That made sense to Mary Rigby at EGR International, a New York incentive house. Last winter she had an advisory board for a major medical company traveling to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and wanted to cover all her bases. She was among Morrissey's first clients.
Through WES, MEDEX costs $1.25 per person, per day for coverage in North America and Western Europe, and $1.65 per person, per day for most of the rest of the world.