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Check on Insurance Coverage Before Kids Head Off to Camp


When her 17-year-old daughter went hiking in the Spanish Pyrenees during a teen trip last summer, Judi Bohn of Arlington, Mass., opted not to buy extra insurance. It was a mistake she says she won’t make again.

Her daughter injured her leg, ended up at the hospital, had to fly home early and got no refund for the unused portion of the $4,500 trip. Insurance would have covered that loss, which was about $2,000, plus the emergency flight home for treatment. “There is a lot of risk out there,” Ms. Bohn says, “and it pays to protect yourself.”

So before you wave goodbye to the kids as they head off to camp, travel or college, make sure they are covered. In many situations, your health plan will give you all the protection you need. Sometimes, however, you had better supplement if you hope to avoid big medical bills or logistical problems.

Wherever you are sending your child, check the fine print in your health policy. Many HMO policies will cover only emergency-room visits once your kid leaves the coverage area. That may be all that is necessary if you are sending a healthy child to summer camp for two weeks. But if the stay is longer or your child has health issues, you may want more coverage.

Some family plans do provide it. BlueCross BlueShield plans, for example, all offer a program called “BlueCard,” which covers most everything but routine care for those outside their plan area. Though the actual coverage “depends on the individual’s policy,” says Alan Rosenberg, vice president of marketing and product management for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

With summer camps , if you need more than your policy provides, the camps themselves may be able to help. Most camps buy accident-and-sickness coverage — it even picks up the cost of your family policy’s deductible — and then include the cost in the camp fee. It is worth asking about. “Sometimes you may not even know it but you may have already purchased coverage for your child,” says Randy Clerihue of the Health Insurance Association of America.

Alternatively, a smaller number of camps work with insurance companies that sell families low-cost policies to cover the camp stay.

And of course there is also the camp infirmary — called the health center today — which usually provides the first line of defense, treating everything from sore throats to sprains. Some centers are basic, but others have doctors on staff 24 hours a day. “Typically there is no charge for what is done at the health center,” says Marla Coleman, president of the American Camping Association.

Teen trips pose special insurance problems. “Unlike a traditional summer camp, you don’t have an infirmary and a nurse on duty,” says Mike Cottingham, co-owner and director of Wilderness Ventures, a Jackson, Wyo., company that runs wilderness-travel program for young adults. That means relying on emergency rooms where it could cost $150 to have someone look at an infected blister, he says.

Most family plans cover emergency-room visits, but a helicopter evacuation if your kid breaks an arm in the wilderness may be a different matter, depending on how urgent the insurance company deems the situation.

Then there is the lost tuition money and the question of who pays for the airfare home when a trip gets cut short.

Wilderness Ventures self-insures here, allowing families to pay a fee that covers trip cancellations in case a child is injured or becomes ill before or during the trip, or has uncovered emergency medical expenses while away.

Other companies that sponsor teen summer travel suggest trip insurance, which provides similar benefits. A handful of companies offer such coverage, including Access America, CSA and Travel Guard International. The policies aren’t expensive. A teenager on a $3,500 backpacking trip can get top-of-the-line trip coverage for less than $200, with basic coverage costing far less. But there are lots of exclusions, like injuries from extreme sports, says Steve Dasseos of, Minneapolis. So read the policies carefully to make sure you are getting coverage you need.

For kids heading to college, the health-insurance policies negotiated by the schools can be an excellent buy. “For us it was a great deal,” says Susan Adams of Brookline, Mass. Because her husband is self-employed, the family has a policy with a steep $2,500 per person annual deductible. She is thrilled with the school health insurance she bought for her son at Providence College, which cost only about $500 a year and covers expenses that had to be paid out of pocket before.

Such college policies typically are offered at low cost. This year at the University of Illinois, the premium was $152 a semester, at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vt., it was $388 a year, and at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., it was $955 a year. But these plans do have drawbacks. Some have annual deductibles of $200 or more; others don’t cover pre-existing conditions. And they aren’t designed for catastrophic illness. At Middlebury, coverage is limited to $25,000 during the coverage year for any one illness or accident.

Write to Lynn Asinof at

June 20, 2002

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PPPS - The Trip Cancellation coverage begins at 12:01 a.m. on the day after the date the policy is purchased. All other coverages begin when you leave home for your trip when your departure date is in the future.

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