April 30 is a day of celebration for Tammy Freeman. On that day four years ago, she almost lost her leg.
It happened on a vacation with her 28-year-old daughter in Cabo St Lucas. Freeman was trying to keep up with her daughter on a “bucket list” day of snorkeling, riding camels and driving ATVs.
On the ATV ride led by a tour guide, they decided to take a trail to check out a hidden beach. Freeman was heading up a hill when she hit a rock. The ATV flipped one way and she went the other, and her ankle hit a rock.
“I didn’t want to look and my daughter wouldn’t let me see how bad my leg was,” Freeman said.
The guide tried to load Freeman onto his ATV to get her back to the resort or at least to a place where they could get cellphone service, but this proved too difficult—and painful. Fortunately, they spotted people riding desert jeeps in the area and were able to get to a location and call for an ambulance.
Suddenly, Freeman found herself hospitalized in a foreign country.
“I’ve only been in a hospital for the birth of my two daughters,” Freeman said. “Even with 22 years of experience in the health insurance industry, I didn’t realize that my insurance didn’t follow me everywhere.”
Freeman’s left ankle and foot were broken. But before the doctors would do surgery they wanted $15,000 up front.
“Wow, I wasn’t in the States anymore,” Freeman said. “Fortunately, I had a credit card, but my daughter had to go back to the resort to get it.”
She paid the $15,000, had surgery and spent three days in the hospital. As she was checking out, she was informed they needed another $15,000 to release her. She was able to get her credit extended to pay the additional charge.
When Freeman got back to Omaha, she checked with an orthopedic specialist who was concerned about how her leg was healing. He thought she might have to have more surgery.
Her physical therapist said it was the worst break she had ever seen. And she added that Freeman was fortunate that she was taken to a private hospital in Mexico and not a state-run facility.
Freeman was sent to a private hospital because she had the money to pay for her care. According to her Omaha doctor and therapist, if she had been admitted to a state-run hospital, she very well could have been faced with the amputation of her lower leg.
“I will never leave the country again without international travel health insurance.” Freeman said. “I would have had an ID card and a number to call and the insurance company would have wired the money and taken care of the arrangements to get me back home.”
According to Consumer Reports Medicare typically doesn’t cover you outside the U.S and neither does Obamacare. If you’re part of your employer’s plan check with them before you leave. If you have travel insurance already, check again to see what is actually covered. Most travel plans do no provide evacuation back to the United States.
Freeman got reimbursed for the care she received in Mexico over time, but did have to pay taxes on her medical care.
Twelve screws and two metal plates are still holding her ankle together. The good news, Freeman said, is that she still can wear high heels.
“Because of the bone loss I have in my leg, the heels actually level me off,” Freeman said. “Which is good, because I do love my heels.”
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska provides travel medical insurance through GeoBlue. Get a quote.