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October 1999 Vol. 14, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Local Chamber Fees

who collects them? and do they help?

from the October, 1999 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

When reader Steve Humphries (Spring Creek NV) headed to Belize’s Manta Resort last year, he found one expense he hadn’t counted on. Since he had DAN dive insurance, he figured that if he needed a hyperbaric chamber, he was covered. Instead, he told us that Manta's staff advised him that “DAN insurance is no good if you need the hyperbaric chamber [in Belize]. It is a $4,000 up-front charge for the chamber, and then you fight it out with the insurance afterward. No $4,000, no chamber, so the resort offers you insurance at $15 per diver that is supposed to cover the cost of the chamber.”

Rumors that DAN insurance isn’t accepted at Belize’s San Pedro hyperbaric chamber have floated around the dive community for a long time. But, according to a DAN representative and Quantum Processing, the company that handles billing and processes insurance for SSS Recompression, the eightchamber network that operates the Belize chamber, there’s no truth to the rumors.

Hopefully, the whispers will start dying down: Manta Resort has been under new management since March, and current manager Tony Reed says they have “always told divers that insurance is good at the chamber at San Pedro. We recommend that all divers come with DAN or PADI insurance.”

So what’s with the $15 per diver “insurance coverage”? While Manta’s former management took the secret of their “insurance” with them when they packed their bags, many resorts, including Manta’s new management, do ask divers to pay $1 or $2/day or $1/tank toward the chamber. But, according to Darla Stewart of Quantum Processing, the charge is not insurance, but an “affiliation fee” that works in conjunction with dive insurance to cover diver’s chamber costs.

According to Stewart, here’s how it works: Since chambers must always have personnel available to operate the chamber in an emergency, they have substantial fixed monthly expenses, whether or not they treat any divers. In fact, Stewart says some of their more remote chambers in PNG and Cabo San Lucas may only treat half a dozen patients a year. So, to keep diver’s chamber fees within reason, chambers need an additional way to finance their fixed costs. They do this by charging all dive operations who want to have a chamber available for their customers a fixed monthly fee to be “affiliated” with the chamber. Resorts, in turn, either factor this cost into their overall charges or request that divers pay a minimal charge. (Manta’s previous management, however, apparently paid monies to the chamber in some months and didn’t in others.)

Obviously, “requesting” that
all dive operations cough up
the money to keep chambers
operating is a little like
making income taxes a
discretionary contribution. . .

Obviously, “requesting” that all shops cough up to keep the chambers operating is a little like making income taxes a discretionary contribution: it’s a lot easier to pocket your “contribution” and rely on your neighbors to foot the bill. Since chambers can’t survive without affiliations, they give operators an incentive to become affiliated with the chamber: they give preferred treatment to insured divers who were diving with an affiliated operator by waiving their dive policy’s deductible, no questions asked. Where non-affiliated divers might be required to put down a deposit in the range of $1,000-1,500, divers with dive insurance who were diving with an affiliated operator are treated without having to pay a nickel. (Stewart adds that cash on the barrel head is not a requirement, even for divers who were diving with a non-affiliated operator. Quantum Processing accepts major credit cards and wire transfers and works with divers who can’t produce either. She says that no one has ever been refused treatment because they were unable to pay.) As a practical matter, since most divers are insured and are diving with an affiliated shop, most of the time Quantum Processing doesn’t request a deposit.

In essence, affiliation fees function for divers as a type of secondary coverage to meet their chamber copayment, they function for dive operators by ensuring that there’s a chamber available to treat their divers, and they function for chambers by keeping the doors open and the bills paid.

So how can divers know whether a payment requested by a dive operator is bogus “insurance” or a legitimate affiliation fee that helps subsidize the local chamber? According to Stewart, it’s in the fine print on all those forms you sign: “This is not an insurance policy. It is an affiliation fee.”

— J. Q.

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