Travel insurance policy claim denied for vaccine cancellation

Richard Effress though he had a perfectly legitimate reason for canceling part of his trip to Africa with his mother: a new requirement that travelers entering South Africa needed a yellow fever vaccine. He was certain his travel insurance policy would cover the change.

Maybe he shouldn’t have been so certain.

Today’s “case dismissed” file is a sad lesson in making assumptions about a travel insurance policy that you shouldn’t. It is also a reminder to compare travel insurance. The fine print in your contract, it turns out, can cost you lots of money.

Let me hand the mike over to Effress to tell his travel insurance tale.

This past summer, my family went to Africa for a safari to celebrate my mother’s 70th birthday. The trip was quite expensive for the six of us and we purchased a comprehensive travel insurance policy called the Worldwide Trip Protector Plan from Travel Insured International.

The policy totaled $6,142 for all of us, and included pre-existing medical conditions as well as trip cancellation, delay and interruption.

On June 16, 2011, five days prior to our June 22 departure, we received notice from our travel agent that the yellow fever vaccine was now required of passengers entering South Africa who previously visited Zambia. As our trip included a stop in Livingstone, Zambia (near Victoria Falls), our travel agent advised us we needed the vaccine and related immunization certificate or risked not being allowed entry into South Africa.

We initially flew from the U.S. to South Africa, but then planned to travel on to Zambia and Botswana before re-entering the country for our final stop in Cape Town.

Due to my mother’s prior experience with shingles, her primary care physician, specialist and her travel doctor all informed her that she could not have certain immunizations prior to the trip, including live viruses such as yellow fever, due to the risks that with her weakened immune system she could actually catch the disease.

As such, we re-routed the trip for two of the six people in our party (my mother Jane Effress as well as her companion Harvey) to Zimbabwe for the two days we would otherwise be in Zambia. This allowed them to see Victoria Falls, albeit not with the rest of our group.

That made perfect sense. You don’t want Mom to succumb to yellow fever, a painful viral infection that could kill her.

Effress’ travel agent made the rebooking at a cost of $1,332, which included airfare, hotel and ground charges. Then Effress submitted a claim to Travel Insured International.

I would have imagined that such a necessary change would be covered under a gold-plated travel insurance policy that cost $6,142. Not so.

Effress reports,

Travel Insured denied the claim on the basis that Jane’s doctor “did not certify your illness at the point when you cancelled/interrupted your trip.

Proof of medical is required for cancellation at the point of interruption. A Physician did not advise cancellation nor certify the illness at the time of loss that prevented you from continuing your trip. Unfortunately, no benefits are payable.

Here’s the chapter and verse in her policy they invoked in a subsequent rejection letter. The World Wide Trip Protector Plan Description of Coverage under Part A says,

Trip Interruption: A) Sickness, Accidental Injury, or death of You, Your Traveling Companion, etc which results in medically imposed restrictions as certified by a Physician at the time of loss, preventing your continued participation in the Trip. A physician must advise cancellation/interruption of the trip.

Trip Insured notes,

It is my understanding that you had to re-route your trip due to not having the Yellow Fever vaccination prior to traveling. Based on the information in your file, your doctor indicates on the Attending Physician Statement form that he did not certify your illness at the point when you cancelled/interrupted your trip. Proof of medical is required for cancellations at the point of interruption. A Physician did not advise cancellation nor certify the illness at the time of loss that prevented you from continuing your trip.

Effress tried to get a doctor to help with the claim, but was turned down.

“I think the insurance company’s position is nonsense,” he says.

I’m inclined to agree, so I contacted Travel Insured on his behalf. This time I heard back from the company’s general counsel.

It is unfortunate that Ms. Effress and Mr. Lambert were precluded from visiting Zambia because she did not receive a yellow fever vaccination.

It is our understanding that all guests entering or transiting through Zambia were required to have a yellow fever vaccination prior to travel and Ms. Effress’s physician stated that the vaccination was not administered, as it was medically contraindicated for personal health reasons.

Their Worldwide Trip Protector plan provides coverage for trips that are cancelled or interrupted due to events specified in the plan. Non compliance with a vaccination requirement is not a covered event.

I understand Effress frustration with his travel insurance policy. The family paid more than six grand for insurance that didn’t cover then.

But the blame for this failure doesn’t just fall to Travel Insured for failing to see the big pictures. Always compare travel insurance offerings before you make a buying decision. Effress should have read his travel insurance policy carefully. And his travel agent should have given the policy a second read prior to making his claim.

I hate having the tell readers that they’re out of options, but I’ve taken this as far as I can. An appeal to a state insurance commissioner and a trip to small claims court would almost certainly not be worth Effress’ time. And besides, a contract is a contract.

It just doesn’t seem fair to him.

(Photo of Cape Town, South Africa by Gurney 5/Flickr)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Brian_in_Wien

    Based on my own experiences and those of people I know, as well as the stories I’ve read here, I avoid travel insurance and have more peace of mind having done so.  However, I’m willing to believe the companies aren’t all skimmers whose business models are based on hyping fear, then finding any excuse to deny claims.  Perhaps there are some good companies and people in the industry.  Are there any stories of travel insurance companies going above and beyond for a normal customer (not a reseller or friend)?  

  • ChrisY

    Beyond major selling point differences between policies – such as one allows cancellation for business reasons (for a charge) and one doesn’t – it seems most contain pretty much the same legalese. 

    Christopher, knowing what you know about other insurers, would ANY of them have covered this situation?  I imagine they all would have a “doctor-must-certify-at-point-of-interruption” clause.

  • Alan

    People in the travel industry keep recommending travel insurance as the universal palliative for the non-refundability of every charge they impose on us. When your travel insurance craps out, as an increasing number of Chris’ stories tell us, the industry response is that it’s our own fault because we cheaped out on the policy.

    So now that we have an instance of an expensive travel policy not working either, where do we go from here?

  • emanon256

    I had to vote no.  I don’t see this as a change based on a Dr.s recommendation, or Mom’s non-compliance with vaccine requirements.  I see this as a change due to the country changing their entry requirements which is clearly outside of the family’s control.  How would a country changing their entry requirements not be a covered change in such a gold-plated policy?  I feel the insurance company is overlooking the actual cause, in order to weasel their way out of paying.  This is just another reminder to me to never buy travel insurance.  Even the good plans apparently.
    Is anyone else shocked at the cost of the policy?  I have never even spent that much on a vacation! That includes a week in Thailand, and on a separate trip, 10 days in Tahiti.  Their policy alone is more than either of those trips all in.  And I didn’t stay at motel 6s.  I stayed at InterContinentals, Mandarin Orientals, and JW Marriotts.  If the insurance costs more than the trip, what’s the point?

  • Amaiero

    While I sympathize with Mr. Effress’ plight it was his responsibility (and perahps his travel agent’s responsibility) to read theh insurance policy. It sounds like the insurance is saying that they only cover him if the trip was completely canceled or interupted after it had already started not changed 5 days prior. “A Physician did not advise cancellation nor certify the illness at the time of loss that prevented you from continuing your trip” As annoying as it is that the company found a loophole because the trip wasn’t completely canceled or technically interupted the insurance company is within their rights to refuse coverage. I hate insurance loopholes as much as the next person but there is some level of personal responsbility involved both on the part of the traveler and his agent.  

  • emanon256

    We hired a travel agent to plan our honeymoon who provided an any-change, any-time, no-cost, no-reason policy to us for $500.  This was her policy, it wasn’t through any third party vendor, and there was no fine print.  She said the only thing we can’t do is cancel.  We could re-schedule, change dates, etc. as much as we like.  This was the Tahiti trip I mentioned in my post below.  My wife changed days on islands a few times, added and removed some tours, changed hotels, changed flights, and even (without my knowledge) extended the trip by two days and got us a room at the Bellagio in Vegas so we could acclimate back to the states.  There was never a cost to us in moving the flights, we did have to pay for the two extra nights of course.
    This agent was amazing and the whole trip had us at InterContinentals on two islands and private resorts on two other islands, and our airplane transfers.  When we got bumped from a flight, our agent arranged to have a helicopter pick us up and transfer us to another island, for our trouble, she gave us two free R/T tickets anywhere in the US.  This whole trip, including Vegas was under $4,000.
    We used her for many more trips until a few years ago when she passed away from Cancer. She was an amazing agent, and never let us down.  My wife found her on The Knot, the wedding website, and though we never met her in person, she really felt like an amazing person to us.  She is greatly missed.

  • Chris in NC

    Personally, I rarely buy travel insurance.

    However, your assessment of the costs of a safari is off base. In fact, I would not be shocked if the cost of the trip exceeded $6000 per person. and keep in mind that the $6000 insurance policy was for 6 people. Rates at luxury hotels in safari camps cannot be compared to rates in Bangkok, Phuket or most places in SE Asia as they can be in the thousands of dollars per night.

  • Chris in NC

    Given that the costs of a safari likely exceeded $6000 per person, I don’t think that $1000 +/- for travel insurance is not out of line. Especially if one considers that this was a policy that included pre-existing conditions for a 70 y/o adult traveler.

    Should this out of pocket expense have been covered? I’m not 100% convinced. This is not a scenario where there is an active illness. Effress’ mother had a medical contraindication for yellow fever vaccine, and without the yellow fever “yellow card” Effress’ mother could not be guaranteed re-entry into South Africa from Zambia. Insurance covers actual events (ie policyholder got sick, or policyholder is stuck), not “what ifs.” Essentially, Effress is being penalized for being proactive, but I don’t know of any policy that would have covered this scenario.

    Since there is so much negative press about insurance, why not do an article titled “Insurance saved my day?” Even with what happened, I dare say that Effress still should have purchased insurance, as he had too much out of pocket costs at risk (ie the total cost of the trip)

  • Julie

    Wasn’t this requirement valid for travel October 1, 2011 onward?  Not sure why they changed their plans if they were going in June.

  • Kevin Mathews

    I’m not really sure I agree with your assessment that this is a Loophole.  While the Physician may not have advised Cancelling the trip, They clearly advised against the Vaccine which would have precluded her from participating in that portion of the trip.  I don’t see the wiggle room there. 
    If A is the requirement to participate and the Doctor says you can’t get A because of a PRE-EXISTING MEDICAL CONDITION, then the doctor is literally saying you can’t go on that part of the trip.

    Bottom line is this: Family paid $6K for an insurance policy.  Their claim was less than 25% of that amount, pay the claim.  If I were the family, I’d take the company to small claims court and make them pay MORE… 

  • emanon256

    Wow, I had no idea.  Somehow I thought staying in a 2,600 sqft two story private villa at the Mandarin Oriental Chiang Mai, an over water bungalow at the IC Bora Bora, and a Beach Villa at the Le Taha`a in French Polynesia would cost more than a safari camp.  I’m not being sarcastic, I am serious.  I guess to each their own, but I thought our trips were expensive, we saved years for these two trips.  I would much rather pay well under $6,000 for a week in these places, than far more to spend the night in the jungle.  No offense to safari goers, but when my uncle went on an African Safari, it did not look luxurious, and for him, his wife, their friends and their parent (5 people) it was about $5,000 total for 20 days of Safari total for all of them.

  • sirwired

    This is a toughie… I think I would have denied the claim, were I the insurance adjuster.  Trip Insurance policies have never covered cancellation or changes because of entry compliance problems (visas, vaccinations,passports, etc.)

    Certainly, there is an excellent reason why she can’t comply, but the fact remains that since her illness isn’t a direct cause of the change, it’s not covered, just like cancellations because of fear of a flu epidemic, no matter how reasonable, are not covered.

    I’d say that most serious cancellation reasons are covered by trip insurance; I’ve placed multiple claims for them and had no hassle, at all.  But the risk of YOUR particular cancellation or change not being covered is part and parcel of purchasing a “Named Perils” policy.  I suspect an Any Reason policy would have covered this.

  • Tia

    So if the OP’s mother did not get the vaccine, traveled to Zambia and then tried to enter South Africa and was denied, would the travel insurance have covered that event?

  • Andrea

    Wow – I did not even realise it was possible that a travel insurance policy could even cost $6,142 for 6 people for one trip! The most I have ever paid for a family annual policy from here in the UK, including adventure sports/winter sports cover, and for several trips in one year as long as none were over 30 days long, is around £80! So I was gobsmacked just to read that bit.

    I feel so much sympathy for the family. But yes, a contract is a contract as petty as it seems, and I think as travellers, we just have to take responsibility for checking the fine print of the policies we buy. And also, of course, we need to check the conditions of the countries we’re visiting in terms of vaccination and visa requirements before we pay for flights and start booking the trip, and make sure we can actually travel to them. Many travellers just assume everything will be fine, but this case sadly shows that is not the reality. 

  • sirwired

    My quick research says the requirement was effective as of July 1.

  • MikeZ

    Wow, she had a pre-existing medical condition that was sound reasoning for the lack of vaccination. Surely that would have been covered. Sounds like someone is splitting hairs. For the $1,300 i might be looking at small claims…

  • readwhatyoupayfor

    same as insurance will not cover you if you neglect to get a visa for specific entries.  they will not cover you for neglecting to get the vaccine..  health condition or not.  they should have applied that denial to the exclusion not the physicians advisement. 

  • Nancy Dickinson

    I’m with you, Alan.  It’s beginning to seem we have to buy a travel protection policy that costs about as much as the trip.  What’s the point of buying a hundreds of dollars policy to protect your money if that’s what you have to spend to protect it?


  • reallypeople

    point blank.  NO.  – the only possible exception would be if they purchased “cancel for any reason” and they then cancelled 48 hours prior to the trip because they were not being able to get the vaccines required.  –  if you are traveling somewhere, know what is needed to access the area.  

  • Julie

    CDC website says October 1… maybe original date was July 1, but delayed?

  • Athena

    What a backwards policy.  It sounds like it would cover his mother if she had taken a day out of her fabulous trip to find a doctor on the first stop in South Africa to certify she could not travel to Zambia, or if she’d actually gotten very sick in Zambia.  How can that possibly make economic sense to the insurer?  I think it would have cost the company far more to make last minute changes than to reroute her in advance, as her son did.  I feel so badly for the family.

  • SoBeSparky

    How much does a good insurance lawyer cost per hour to review trip insurance policies?  Only one well versed in the law and the specific words, like “certified by a physician at the time of the loss,” can figure out what is going on here.

    Kudos to Christopher Elliott for continuing to point out the vast legal crevices of trip insurance.  This is just another reason to avoid all of these trip insurance scams (called policies), like the plague they are.  Heads they win; tails you lose.  Gotcha!  Or spend hundreds of dollars to have a lawyer read your proposed policies and give an opinion on coverages before your purchase, not afterwards when it is too late.

    The only alternative is to have Federal oversight of interstate travel insurance policies.  You may not like the concept of government, but there is a reason for it and this clearly is one. 

    The average (by definition) 100 IQ person cannot possibly differentiate between clever wordings used in the policies.  Was the company right in denying the claim?  Of course they were as they wrote the policy.  Duh.

  • jackson

    ‘make economic sense” = the point of insurance, covering for named perils.  they are there to pay for covered losses.  no matter what is cheaper to cover for the insurer.  they will cover the covered loss

  • Tony A.

    Isn’t this a travel planning issue? The Yellow Fever (YF) risk maps and country lists do change. Do your homework well before you travel overseas. IMO I would lean on the travel agent who sold them the tickets and tours.
    What and When should they have known? If I can prove that the information was out there BEFORE  I was sold my ticket and tour, I will point the finger at the travel agent.

    Travel Insurance does not replace good travel planning. Incidentally, why didn’t Effress try to get a WAIVER for the YF vaccination since her immune system was weak. Quote from official source:

    If you cannot get a yellow fever vaccination because of medical reasons, you can present an exemption certificate.

    The form is accesible from the US CDC site

    Who advised this family?

  • Joe Farrell

    This would have been so simple if the OP and the TA had read the policy before making the claim.  Before making a claim on any insurance policy you need to read it – understand its exclusions – and then ensure that you are filing a claim that will be covered. 

    It would have been easy enough to have gotten the doctor to prepare a letter to parrot the exclusions in the policy so as to avoid them – and provide for coverage,  I understand that most do not think like this but when you are dealing with a legal document with legally drafted exclusions – you need to READ it and understand it.  My gosh – you paid $6000 for it – and you don’t understand what you bought BEFORE you buy it? 

    People – READ YOUR DOCUMENTS and understand them – if you do not – ASK SOMEONE. 

    It’s probably possible to get coverage here with a properly drafted doctors note – assuming [a big assumption too] that the doctors assumptions about live vaccines are in keeping with generally accepted medical thinking and not just this doctors wild azz irrational concern –

  • Chris in NC

    Fact is, we don’t know what the OP paid per person for the trip. While your uncle was able to book a safari for $1000/person for 20 days (did that really include airfare, or was it ground component only), I have a business partner that just paid $17,000 for a 11 day Tanzania safari. Granted that included RT business class airfare, but the ground component was still $4899/person.

    Consider that the OP may have spent at least $6000+ per person, a $1000 policy that covers pre-existing conditions for at least one adult that is 70 years old is not a situation where insurance costs more than the trip.

    Personally, I would never spend that amount of money on a tour, but the insurance policy may be priced right.

  • Pizo

    I did a safari in March in Tanzania. We camped in a small 2 person tent, not those big fancy white tents you see in ads. Public campsites with shared facilities. The cost was a bit over $200 per person per day. I consider myself well traveled and have had done pretty incredible things and the safari is way up on the top of the list of most amazing. Being woken up by hearing a lion roar or hearing a buffalo walk through camp is incredible.

  • Joelw

    To describe staying at the most luxurious safari lodges as “a night in the jungle” is completely off base. Many of those places are the epitomy of luxury asnd routinely find their way to the top of the annual lists in Conde Nast and Travel & Leisure. By the way, if your uncle went on a safari that cost $50 per day per person, I can well believe that it didn’t look luxurious. In fact, that number is barely credible.

  • Vivi

    Effress tried to get a doctor to help with the claim, but was turned down.

    Why?  These are his mother’s regular doctors and they said she couldn’t get the vaccination for health reasons.  Why would they not certify that opinion instead of apparently making it a mere suggestion?

    As for travel insurance, I buy it for leisure travel out of the country (mostly for medical evacuation coverage, emergency care, etc.) and it looks like the language noted is fairly standard.  I’m not sure that without the doctor’s certification any other insurance carrier would have honored the claim.  It is very sad for Mr. Effress, he did everything he thought needed to be done and paid over $6k for it, but reading the policy fully would have served him well as it specifically notes the need for a certification from the doctor.

  • Rich Effress

    Hi folks, just to clarify a few points for those who care…the doctor was more than willing to help and in a second correspondence made clear that there was no option to take the vaccine, and the option we had was to re-route or cancel the trip for two members or all six.  We chose to re-route and go.  This was a pre-existing medical condition that prevented Jane from getting the vaccine and the yellow fever vaccine requirements were changed 5 DAYS BEFORE WE LEFT.  We received an urgent email from our African based travel agent.  (She received all the other vaccinations at an appointment a few months before.)  It was an expensive trip, no question, but a once in a lifetime trip for my mom and yes the insurance cost that much.  I remain very disappointed in the result as our two options were to go with re-route or cancel altogether (which, if upheld, would of course have cost the insurance companies much much more than we asked for in the claim).  And, to be clear, in reviewing all the fine print you want there is nothing to suggest that post-purchase determination of vaccine contraindication would be any different than contracting yellow fever itself (which per the company’s response WOULD be covered).

  • Joe Farrell

    next time – consider the issues – everyone should do this:

    6 people traveling on a trip. . ..  1 of whom is old.

    you buy 1 policy for the 5 essentially healthy people – and then 1 cancel for any reason policy for the older person to cover their issues- the premium will be alot less than covering all 6 using the worst risk as the premium basis . . .

  • $16635417

    Rich…always good to see a response form the OP.

    It appears from Tony A.’s post above that there was a way for the mother to NOT get the vaccine, visit Zambia and still go to South Africa. This would have involved an exemption certificate. Was this ever considered or discussed?

    I assume your first choice would have been to take the trip as planned rather than make any last minute deviations.

  • Tony A.

    Rich, according to the RSA Heath Dept site, you mom could have applied for a waiver. The form is in our own CDC site. See my post above. Who gave you advice? Where you told that a waive was possible? Where you using a border entry where there was no RSA Dept of Health Rep who could inspect the waiver?

  • bc

    Pizo, where did you book your trip? A photo safari is on my radar as my next big adventure. 

  • Tom

    Plenty of 70 year olds run the marathon every year, but if his mother was too weak to be vaccinated, maybe he should have planned a less strenous trip than an African safari.

    This doesn’t address the issue of the weasly insurance company, but when traveling with children or the elderly, you need to be aware of their limits.

  • john4868

    I feel for the OP but insurance doesn’t cover every event. It also isn’t relevant when the requirement changed. Six months or 5 days the result is the same. They couldn’t travel into a country without meeting certain requirements. One of those requirements his mother could not meet so she had to change her plans.
    Having said that, I wonder if the exclusion would be covered under a pre-existing conditions waiver (if this policy had one) with the argument being that the underlying condition of shingles caused her to have to interrupt her trip.  But then again, the policy may not have waived pre-existing conditions which would be another reason for the denial.

  • Michael K

    Reading the clause as a layman, I would expect that:
    her primary care physician, specialist and her travel doctor all informed her that she could not have certain immunizations prior to the trip, including live viruses such as yellow fever, due to the risks that with her weakened immune system

    should qualify as:
    medically imposed restrictions as certified by a Physician at the time of loss, preventing your continued participation in the Trip. A physician must advise cancellation/interruption of the trip.

    I’m still not clear as to precisely what the insurer’s objection is:

    Is it that the (3) doctors didn’t send written confirmation to the insurer quickly enough explaining what they advised the patient and what restrictions they imposed?

    Is it that *revisions* to the itinerary for medical reasons before departure are not allowed and that the OP’s only option was to *cancel* the entire trip?  

    Is it that last-minute changes to entry requirements are always excluded, even if those changes preclude participation in the trip (as certified by physicians)?

    Is there some other reason?

  • Rich Effress

    We were advised that there was no exemption available given the time we had (3 business days plus a weekend), and with connection times upon entry into RSA there would be too much risk of getting held up depending on the reaction of passport control personnel if we “winged it” and did not make an itinerary change and Jane went in without the vaccine certification.  Furthermore, we were advised a contraindication would not be sufficient for a waiver.  Keep in mind we heard Thursday night, sent Jane to the doctor Friday and found out only Friday afternoon that she could not have the vaccine.  We left the following Weds.  We spent the weekend sorting out options, difficult to do with a 10 hour time change on the weekend.  And by Tuesday we made the itinerary change.  We would have made the change regardless and given the circumstances did not give a lot of thought to spending the money (which at around $1,300 was unfortunate but not a trip killer).  Still would have made the same decision knowing what I know now (though would be a lot more suspect of “gold plated” insurance policies).  And as for the comment about Jane being to frail for the trip, she is a robust active 70 year old (as his her companion) and she rolled through the trip just fine.  Finally, as for getting a “cancel for any reason” policy — first, that is exceptionally expensive and not what we sought to insure; second, and more importantly, we did not cancel and for the life of us never would have.  What good would that have done?  Who knows if we would be able to reschedule.  The trip was phenomenal, and this unfortunate situation doesn’t change the great memories and experiences.

    Insurance simply did not deliver like it should have.  That’s my view even after reading the fine print, and we acted in good faith to minimize the excess expenses even relying (falsely) that this would absolutely be covered.  Life is too short to go to small claims court, even if we win.  Pick any hourly rate you want, not worth it.  The insurance company “wins” in this case, but I say shame on them.  Next time, shame on me for relying on anything more than coverage in only the most clear-cut case.   Live and learn.

  • Joelw

    I hardly think you should characterize someone who is 70 as “old.”

  • Joelw

    I should have said that your suggestion is a good one, however.

  • Joelw

    I’m curious as to what you mean by saying it was her policy. Was she charging all of her clients $500 and gambling that few would cause her to incur the expense that you did or is there more to it? Travel agents do not, to my knowledge, have their own insurance policies.

  • emanon256

    Well I think I have a very different definition of Safari than other people here.  My uncle’s trip involved backpacking for 20 days with a local guide and setting up camp in each location.  They carried their food and water and tents with them, there were no showers or toilets or running water or any luxury.  That is what I always thought of as a safari, so I guess I am completely off base.  And I never said it was luxurious.

  • emanon256

    I don’t know if it included airfare, I would guess it probably didn’t.  From seeing the posts below, I guess the type of safari my uncle took, is not what the OP took, nor what your colleague took.  See my reply to Joelw.

  • Linda Bator

    But NO insurance policy covers your lack of proper documentation, visas, vaccinations — in other words, REQUIRED items.  Those are your responsibility.  I just don’t understand why the doctor told her she could not take the shots, then refused to stand by that decision with the insurance company (failed to certify the illness).  All he had to do was back up his diagnosis and recommendation, and the insurance company would have covered her.  But in essence, he told them he didn’t tell her that!  What a lousy doctor!

  • Linda Bator

    Problem here is that’s what he told the TRAVELLER, but when he had to put it in writing for the insurance claim, he DID NOT!  This sits squarely on the shoulders of the doctor — you can’t tell a patient one thing, but not tell the insurance people another — time for a new doctor — maybe even take HIM to court!

  • Linda Bator

    No – once again, they don’t cover your lack of required documents/vaccinations, etc.

  • Linda Bator

    But a traveller is required to have all necessary documentations/vaccinations and insurance policies do not cover your not having done so — I think the problem here is the doctor should have stated that due to a pre-existing condition, she could NOT have the shot, but he didn’t do that when insurance went to him.  Don’t know why he’d tell her one think, but not back it up in black and white!

  • Linda Bator

    Beacuse if you read above, when insurance went to the doctor for confirmation, he did NOT stand behind what he had told the client.  Don’t know why, but all he had to do was state to them what he stated to her!

  • guest

    Well, they are qualified as old – they have more potential health problems at that age, and is why insurance rates go progressively up based on AGE

  • Michael K

    No, that’s not so clear.  In fact, the insurer’s general counsel suggests otherwise:

    Ms. Effress’s physician stated that the vaccination was not administered, as it was medically contraindicated for personal health reasons.

    When they write:

    A Physician did not advise cancellation nor certify the illness at the time of loss

    It’s not at all clear whether the objection is in regards to the timing of the physician’s actions relative to the itinerary changes, or in regards to the timing of the illness onset (a pre-existing condition issue?) or in regards to the physician’s actions alone (and if so, precisely how did the physician’s actions fall short of their requirements?).

  • pizo

    I booked through BaseCamp and we could not have been more pleased with how things went.  It was beyond anything we could have hoped for.  Our guide was named Sos and our cook Zulu.  I wrote a long “how our trip went” on the Tanzania forum on TripAdvisor and on 

  • pizo

    Even with backpacking and whatnot $50 per person per day is awfully cheap, incredibly cheap when you consider the price of gas and the entry fees into national parks.  in Tanzania it’s $50 a day per person just to be in a national park. 

  • pizo

    Having an immune system that can be compromised by a live virus jab does NOT equal weak and elderly.  My mom didn’t get the Yellow Fever jab either due to health issues although thankfully they didn’t check when we got to Zanzibar (where it is required).  My mom is currently on a week long ocean kayaking trip, she’s hardly “weak”. 

  • SoBeSparky

    That was not the case at all, see post below from Mr. Effress below.  The fact that many misinterpreted what happened here again is an indication of a vaguely worded insurance policy which really can not be interpreted by a layman. 

    As for asking someone to clarify what the policy says, try to get that “clarfication” in writing.  Won’t happen in our lifetimes.  Insurance companies do not clarify in writing what they have carefully and “artfully” worded in the policy.  Generally they say they are not allowed to by their counsel.  Insurance agents and other bystanders have no authority to clarify anything on behalf of an insurance company.  Only an company officer can do that when it is put in writing.

  • Judith

    I was recently in Zambia and returned to South Africa to fly home, but prior to leaving home I knew of the vaccination requirement.  My HMO, along with the CDC, recommends that individuals over 60 not get the yellow fever vaccination because of the high risk of side effects, which can include organ damage.  I emailed the South African Consulate in Los Angeles and they replied that if I had a doctor’s letter advising against the vaccination I could enter South Africa without it.  I obtained the letter and carried it and a copy of the Consulate’s email and provided both, when asked about my vaccination, to the airline checking me in at Livingstone.  The clerk made a photo copy of both, and checked me in and everything went fine.  US residents should be aware of this.  I’m hoping it will also work when I go to Brazil next year!   

  • Sadie Cee

    Good for you Joelw!!! 

    I clicked “Like” but would have clicked “Love” if there were such an option.  :-)

  • Tony A.

    The irony is the WHO ITH removed Zambia from the Annex 1 list (Countries with risk of yellow fever transmission and 
    countries requiring yellow fever vaccination) for 2011. Zambia is now a low risk country. However South Africa does not agree and told the WHO that they would require Vaccination certificates from travelers.

    South Africa – Revised requirements for Yellow Fever vaccination21 SEPTEMBER 2011 – The National Department of Health from the Republic of South Africa informed WHO that it considered that travellers from countries with low risk of yellow fever transmission still pose a risk of yellow fever importation into the country and that proof of yellow fever vaccination will be required from all travellers (unless in possession of a valid waiver certificate) coming from yellow fever risk countries – including Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia. Also, all travellers transiting airports in these countries will have to show proof of yellow fever vaccination at entry in the Republic of South Africa.The South African yellow fever vaccination policy for travellers can be consulted on the National Department of Health website.
    According to RSA Health Department the requirement only started OCTOBER 1, 2011. Check link above.If this information is correct then when the Effresses started their trip on 22JUN, they still didn’t need an ICVP certificate. Again I will push back to the travel agent. Did they get accurate information?

  • Master Bator

    Well it comes down to what is ‘preexisting’ – honestly I don’t blame the doctor for not writing a not if he isn’t sure, given the amount of scrutiny that such letters get.

  • sdir

    Well, he’s a lousy doctor only if he did indeed tell the family prior to their cancellation.  If they cancelled the trip, and only then contacted the doctor, then they did things in the wrong order.  Sucky situation for the family regardless, but that’s how I read it.

  • flutiefan

    why not? it’s a description, not an insult. i’d call a 3 year old “young”, i’d call a 13 year old “young”, and i’d probably call a 23 year old “young”. would that be insulting?

  • emanon256

    I don’t know anything other than what I stated.  She offered it to us, and said it was a policy where would could make any change at any time with no catch.  We didn’t have to file any claims; we could just make any and all changes to anything. I was not through any sort of insurance provider, but through her as our agent.

  • S E Tammela

    “Being unable” is not “non-compliance”.

    For the amount of money involved, I’d seek legal advice.

  • Brian_in_Wien

    It is a telling that this is the only example provided. This isn’t an example of a travel insurance company going above what is expected, but of a travel agent who took it upon herself to provide something of real value.  That is a sad commentary on the state of the travel insurance industry.  I had hoped to see someone write a story that would cause me to change my mind.  Instead, crickets….

  • Clare

    Okay, so if the OP’s mother had gotten the vaccination against her doctor’s instructions, and got seriously ill while on the vacation, would the insurance company have covered hospital and medivac costs, etc.? 

    And would they have covered them for the whole family, or only covered them for the patient, and expected the rest of the family to continue to enjoy themselves on vacation while Mom was flown back to a US hospital all alone? 

    And if Mom ended up dying of the disease, and it was established that she had caught it from the vaccination, which she had to get if she was to take the trip as originally planned, then the insurance company obviously would have concluded that it was none of THEIR business, right? 

    What’s the name of this insurance company again?  Let’s all write it down, shall we? 

  • Tony A.

    You forgot one more – if she was actually QUARANTINED, it would be an INTERRUPTION that most travel insurance would pay for.

    While most of what you are saying may be true, it is important to understand how travel insurance works. What will it pay for?
    These are things one cannot just assume. They must read the policy to make informed decisions. (If you cannot understand the policy then WHY BUY INSURANCE?)

    The same is true for South Africa’s travel health policies. The OP said he received an email from their tour agency sometime in June, 5 days before they departed the USA. Well, did they bother to check the official circular that the Republic of South Africa’s Health Department put out? Or did they take the agent’s word as fact?

    I posted the announcement from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Travel and Health Dept (ITH). This is the agency that coordinates vaccination requirements of international countries. They (ITH) posted the letter coming from RSA’s Health Dept. saying the effective 1OCT 2011, RSA would require Vaccination Certificates from travelers coming from Zambia. Isn’t this evidence a hell of a lot clearer than an email from a travel agency/tour operator? What is the agency’s source of information? Validate it.

    And then there is the doctor who said OP’s mom is not healthy enough to get the YF vaccine. So why didn’t he download the vaccination waiver form from the US CDC and sign it. She could have avoided the perceived problems in the first place. RSA clearly states that they will accept health waivers.

    Here’s what I cannot understand – so many travelers can go online search fares, tours, things to do, restaurants, and whatever. But when it comes to reading travel insurance policies online, the US CDC information online, or googling “South Africa Health Department”, they seem to get brain freeze.

    You really cannot replace KNOWLEDGE by buying INSURANCE.  When people buy expensive or exotic trips, they need to plan a lot better. A complaint to Elliott wont help either. Sorry but taking a trip to the wild side ain’t a trip to the park.

    PS. I’ve actually had one of this Yellow Fever Vaccinations for a trip to South America. First, you just can’t schlep to your Primary Care Physician and get one. He doesn’t stock it on in his fridge. You’ll need to located a Travel Vaccination Clinic. Sanofi Pasteur is the maker of this vaccine (YF-VAX®) and they have a website that helps you locate their outlets:
    The CDC also has a clinic locator:
    Note: the challenge is finding the center that has it in stock. Usually you need to make an appointment and make sure they have the vaccine and the all important CARD (the certificate itself that you need to show when you enter the country). BTW, it ain’t cheap. Budget $100++ (some will charge a consultation fee extra).

    Second, the vaccine is suppose to protect YOU from getting sick if you get bit by an infected mosquito. It takes at least 10 days for your body to create enough antibodies (as a reaction to this live but attenuated antigen). So you must get the injection at least 10 days before you enter the foreign country requiring the immunization.

  • bc

    Thanks! Just checked out their website, the trips sound amazing and ridiculously reasonable prices.

  • Joelw

    Was there any kind of documentation or was this just a verbal promise?

  • Joelw

    If it’s a description then it’s an inaccurate one and yes, some people aged 70 would take it as an insult.

  • Caitlin Fitzsimmons

    I had to claim on insurance when I was hit by a car in Germany as a high school exchange student. It covered the ambulance and assiciated bills ( I was fine), the driver’s expenses (it was my fault), and replacement of the destroyed bicycle I was riding. There was not a problem.

    My father dropped his video camera in a canal in Venice. His travel insurance company replaced it. There was not a problem.

    I guess most Americans who can afford to travel have health insurance that covers them for most travel. For those of us who live in countries with proper public healthcare, travel insurance is essential because we are not covered for medical expenses away from our home countries.

  • Brian_in_Wien

    I am really interested – could you let me know what company it was that treated you so well, and if you have any connection with the travel industry?Many thanks!

  • Rae A

    Remember, we don’t hear the stories of all the trip insurance claims that benefit the traveler. It’s not news.