Church Community Helped Virginia Woman Pay for $169K Air Ambulance After Overseas Car Crash

After a Virginia woman was injured in a car crash overseas, she faced spending tens of thousands of dollars to get home for treatment.

Linnea Carlson of Arlington was in Uganda a year-and-a-half ago with her daughter, Marta, to visit the 4-year-old Betty, an orphan Carlson's adopting. But on the drive to the orphanage, the car crashed.

“They picked us up, and we got on the road, and the next thing I knew, we were not on the road anymore,” she said.

Their car violently tumbled down a hill. The driver and Marta weren't injured, but Linnea was.  

“Then they take me to a hospital, but you'd never recognize it as a hospital,” Carlson said.

The X-ray machine was sketchy at best, Carlson said.

“The equipment was really old,” she said. “The X-rays were hard to read.”

Lying flat on her back and unable to walk, Carlson snapped pictures of the X-rays and sent them to her doctors at home. They told her she needed surgery right away, but not in Uganda.

Getting home safely required an air ambulance, which her private health insurance didn't cover.

“So even if your insurance did cover it, you have to pay upfront to get them to come and get you,” Carlson said.

The cost: $169,000.

“You buy insurance to cover yourself against catastrophic financial loss,” said Kevin Brasler of Washington Consumers’ Checkbook.

He said travelers like Carlson are often caught off guard when medical emergencies happen outside of the U.S. While private health plans may cover some expenses, Medicare doesn't cover any foreign medical expense.

Brasler said travelers should consider purchasing international travel medical insurance before heading overseas.

“There are medical insurance plans that are specifically set up to cover the costs of any medical care you might need while you are abroad, or even more important, getting you back home,” he said.

If you're traveling to a region that lacks high-quality care, consider buying a policy that includes the cost of an air ambulance. Some companies allow you to purchase coverage for a single trip for as little as $100. If you travel often, a full year will run you about $400.

Carlson’s bill was covered by her loving church community.

“I'm very blessed, very blessed,” she said.

She plans to return to Uganda when Betty's adoption is final, but this time she's not taking chances.

“Now, I currently have the air ambulance insurance,” she said. “You can buy it for your whole family, and because I have a trip still pending to Uganda, I have that.”

International medical insurance is different than travel insurance, which protects the cost of your trip and is purchased separately.

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