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Christopher Elliott: Shop, compare for insurance

  • Published Sunday, April 10, 2011, at 12:06 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, April 10, 2011, at 12:39 a.m.

Afterwards, we received a document with the specifics of our policy. I didn't read it because I didn't anticipate having to make a claim. But I was wrong.

Shortly before our trip, my mother died unexpectedly. I called Orbitz, which referred me to the insurance company. An Access America representative told me to cancel the trip and suggested that I reschedule it. They promised they would "take care" of the claim.

A few weeks later, Access America denied my claim for $951, because my mother suffered from high blood pressure. The death certificate listed the cause of death as being from "natural causes." I didn't know a natural cause was a pre- existing medical condition.— Cheryl Ellis, Lee's Summit, Mo.

A: My condolences on the loss of your mother. I agree with you that a "natural cause" isn't a pre-existing condition, and I think Access America should have honored your claim.

But this misunderstanding might have been avoided. When you bought your insurance policy, you didn't read the terms before buying it and made the decision to insure your vacation as an afterthought. There's nothing wrong with buying travel insurance from your agent, but I always recommend doing a little research before purchasing any policy.

It's as simple as clicking on a site like InsureMyTrip.com (www.insuremytrip.com) or SquareMouth (www.squaremouth.com) and reviewing the terms and costs. Typically, travel insurance is a good idea for big-ticket purchases over $10,000, but in your case, a $951 vacation was definitely was worth insuring.

At the very least, you should have reviewed the terms of your insurance policy carefully before buying it. You might have seen some of the limits about pre-existing medical conditions and had second thoughts, and taken an opportunity to shop around before buying the Access America policy.

Then again, no one expects a sudden death in the family, so you couldn't have known what was about to happen and it's unlikely you would have done anything differently. That's the thing about travel insurance: You don't know what kind of coverage you'll need until you need it.

I contacted Access America on your behalf and asked it to take another look at your claim. "Due to the extenuating circumstances, we have made a consideration in this case and have paid the Ellis claim in full," a representative said.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for travelers. You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or e-mail him at celliott@ngs.org.

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