When my baby boy was first diagnosed with a number of severe food allergies, I was devastated. All I could think about was all the delicious food he—and we—would miss out on. Peanut butter, once a staple in our home, was now banned. Much-loved bakeries were now off limits. If my husband and I wanted Asian takeout, we’d do so guiltily, after the baby was in bed, and then disinfect our table, countertops and anything else our food may have come into contact with.
As time passed, I realized that his food allergies would make it challenging, if not impossible, to take part in other much-loved experiences, like travel. Not only would we need to contend with eye rolls and exasperated sighs on airplanes (not to mention seating areas covered in crumbs that could kill from previous passengers), we’d need to research where it is safe to eat out, and whether or not our overseas host could accommodate 6+ allergies.
And then there’s travel insurance. This one is a biggie. If only because people know so little about it. See, I’m part of a couple of different support groups for parents of children with food allergies. It’s great because I’m surrounded by seasoned allergy parents who encourage newcomers when we’re feeling down, provide us with practical tips for everyday life, and give us the inside scoop on safe eating spots in the city. And yet…
This same group of moms and dads who’ve been doing this for years aren’t necessarily in the know when it comes to this one really important thing. Because I once worked for a travel insurance company, I know things aren’t always as straightforward as they seem—especially when it comes to travelling with a pre-existing condition. (And yes, food allergies are considered just that.) I know from writing about topics like travelling while pregnant or travelling with kids that pregnancy, for example, is also considered a pre-existing condition. Not everyone has been programmed to think this way—or to ask a million questions when it comes to travel coverage. But I have.
So I’ve compiled a list of tips for people travelling with food allergies below. Give them a read before your next trip—it just might save you a tens of thousands of dollars.
- Never, ever assume. A lot of the parents I spoke with had travel insurance through their workplace benefits and simply assumed their child was covered—no questions asked. But when it comes to travel insurance, it can be dangerous to assume anything. Always triple check your policy and then speak to an actual person to make sure your food-allergic child is eligible for coverage.
- Take that first “yes” with a grain of salt. The first time I hopped on the phone with my insurer (also through work), the representative assured me that, yes, my little guy was covered. If I hadn’t worked in the industry, I would have let out a huge sigh of relief, left on vacation, and then gone into debt had my child experienced an anaphylactic reaction OR—get this—any unrelated injury or illness during our trip. Luckily, I knew better.
- Ask questions. I found it hard to believe that my son was covered, pre-existing condition and all. So I repeated the question. And got the same answer. I thought of a different way to word it and asked again. The answer remained “yes.” I tried again. Still “yes.” I eventually got off the phone feeling really confused and very uncertain about the whole thing.
- Then ask more questions. A few weeks passed, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it—something just didn’t seem right. I decided to call one more time. And guess what, this time I received a completely different answer. I was told that, in fact, I’d need to buy a separate policy for my son. (What?! I knew it! But what about all those parents out there who didn’t know any better?) After being transferred to an affiliate company, what I learned made a lot more sense to me: My son would be covered if his condition was “stable” for 90 days prior to the trip.
- Find out what they mean by “stable” or “stability period.” The term “stable” has a positive connotation, so many people assume (there’s that word again!) that a pre-existing condition is stable as long as it didn’t worsen during the period in question. This is absolutely, positively incorrect. While it goes without saying that an allergic reaction that results in a trip to the doctor or ER would deem your child’s condition unstable, you probably didn’t know this: A simple follow-up visit to the allergist also results in an “unstable” label even if you learned that your child had grown out of one of his allergies. So when you’re booking your trip, check your calendar to make sure you don’t have an allergist appointment within the 90 days* prior. If you do, reschedule the appointment or the trip—whichever is easier.
- Check how long the stability period is. *For me, it was 90 days. That may not be the case with your insurer. Read the fine print on your policy (under “Pre-Existing Conditions”) or speak with a representative on the phone.
- Carry your wallet card with you at all times. You will need this on you in case of a medical event while travelling. Insurance companies prefer that you call them before seeking out care, but in the case of an emergency, that’s not always possible. As soon as you have a free moment, though, do be sure to give them a call. You wouldn’t want your claim to be denied because your insurer didn’t have a say in the matter (read: negotiating fees so that they aren’t paying the highest prices out there). Here’s another card you might like to keep around in your wallet, and the good news is, it’s a bit more fun.
You might not believe it, but there’s a happy ending to my story. After all those questions and all that stress, guess how much my son’s travel insurance ended up costing me?
$25. That’s it.
I had prepared myself for the worst, but because my son was an otherwise healthy little boy, and because he was stable for the 90 days prior to the trip, our travel insurance was more than just affordable—it was a steal!
The moral of this story? Do your homework before your next trip. You could end up saving yourself big bucks.