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February 2015    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 41, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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How Is Your Dive Insurance in an Emergency?

advice to consider when youíre diving far from home

from the February, 2015 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Have you ever had to contact Divers Alert Network (DAN), or other dive insurance providers, for medical information or treatment? Have you been on a dive trip where someone else needed to? We recently asked subscribers to our mid-monthly e-newsletter for their experiences.

For the most part, our respondents had DAN as their insurance provider, and for the most part, they had favorable experiences in their time of need. But a few had situations and suggestions that divers should keep in mind when they're taking a dive trip far from home -- and out of their primary health insurer's network coverage.

Mickey Rosenberg (Providence, RI) says any delay in medical treatment can mean the difference between a full recovery and permanent damage. He and his wife, Jayne, were hiking up a mountain in Virgin Gorda two years ago when she suddenly came down with a vision issue that seemed like a possible detachment of the retina. Rosenberg says, "I'm a doctor but I didn't feel I could make a firm diagnosis, so I called DAN, who connected me with a retina specialist in West Palm Beach. He too was unsure, but because a delay could lead to permanent visual loss, we jetted there from Beef Island and took a taxi to his office. Fortunately it was a posterior vitreous detachment [a common change in the eye that doesn't cause vision loss], and needed no specific treatment. DAN, which had arranged everything but the hotel and flight changes, followed up the next day."

While Rosenberg was happy with the outcome, he hesitates about booking another overseas dive trip. "Now that my wife and I are in our 60s, we wonder about being so far from medical services, as you've discussed in recent articles. While in a remote part of Fiji last May, we had another potential medical misadventure that resolved on its own with time, but we were a much longer way from decent medical care. Getting old sucks."

No matter where you experience medical issues, get short-term care immediately, but then get to your primary doctor as soon as you can. Jeff Janak (Dallas, TX) suffered barotrauma to his right ear while diving in 20-foot shallows in the Florida Keys. "After 90 minutes, my ear had had enough, and I had vertigo. After I returned to my hotel, I called DAN, even though I don't have insurance with them. The person I talked with nailed my diagnosis and treatment, but he qualified that he was not my doctor and could not officially confirm those. He advised that I should see my personal doctor ASAP. While my doctor is not a diving specialist, he was able to talk with DAN as well in order to administer my treatment properly. DAN didn't charge for their service, either."

Even if DAN doesn't know the answer, it will do what it can to get divers the right treatment. When Peter Jones (New York City) had a non-emergency medical question while diving in Tortola, DAN set up a conference call between the local ER physician, the DAN doctor, and a physician in the U.S. Virgin Islands. When Thomas Lopatin (Lake Hopatcong, NJ) backed his hand into a spiny black sea urchin on his last dive at Cocos Island, one of the spines penetrated the joint of his left thumb, which swelled and didn't resolve itself upon his return to land. "I called DAN and the doctor didn't know what to suggest, but he gave out the number of Paul Auerbach, an emergency medicine doctor at Stanford who wrote a book on hazardous marine life. I called and left a voicemail. He called back within a couple hours and told me what to tell my doctor by way of treatment. Everything worked out fine (except the remnants of the urchin spine is encapsulated in the joint)."

Because dive medical insurance is not always your primary medical insurance, there may be snags when it comes to how much you pay and who will reimburse you. Carol Schoelch (St. Louis, MO) felt pain in her right side during a dive in Cozumel and knew she had the bends. "I went to the chamber on the island, was diagnosed with stage 2 decompression sickness, and spent the next four days there. I called DAN and they told me to call my primary group health provider as they were only secondary insurance. My primary denied it as it was 'out of network,' and they did not understand the urgency of my need for treatment. I then called DAN back, and they said I would have to work with my primary to get them to pay, and they would pay what the primary did not. I had to write a check for $12,000 for chamber costs before I could leave the island. It took nearly six months to get my primary group health to accept the claim. Then they only paid half, and then DAN finally paid the balance."

When her scuba club did a presentation on the different types of dive insurance, and how they paid, Schoelch decided Dive Assure was the best choice. "It was primary coverage, so they would pay immediately, without you having to go through primary health insurance and it was comparable in price.

And they pay for your plane ticket home so you don't have to." And a final tip. Some primary policies, Medicare included, do not cover accidents on foreign soil. Check your coverage and know what you're on the hook for -- before you travel.

-- Vanessa Richardson

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