Marcel Meth’s wife and daughter had plans to visit his recently widowed sister-in-law in Minnesota. As a precaution, they bought a travel insurance policy through Access America.

But they bought the wrong policy.

“Four days before my wife and daughter were to leave for Minnesota, my sister-in-law called us and told us that her son was hospitalized and that he would be remaining in the hospital for a week or more,” he says. “In response to this, my wife needed to cancel the vacation. We obtained all the necessary documentation and filed it with the Access America. They immediately denied the claim, saying that the reason for hospitalization was not covered by the policy.”

I know what you’re thinking. Ah, yet another cautionary tale about travel insurance!

But I think this one is worth taking a closer look at, for a few reasons. First, it exposes the limits of the average policy. And second, it raises questions about the overall effectiveness of travel insurance.

First things first. Why did Access America say “no” after the initial claim? Apart from the unspecified medical reason (more on that in a moment) there was the issue of who was covered, according to Meth.

The insurance would only cover my wife, but not my daughter, since the relative was my daughter’s cousin.

Cousins are not covered on the policy, according to the insurance agent.

That’s an issue I don’t run into very often with travel insurance, and certainly worth taking note of. The lesson? Read that policy carefully and make sure you make a claim only when it’s a relative covered by the policy.

For the second issue, I had to ask Access America. What kind of medical reason wouldn’t be covered in the policy? I couldn’t think of one, offhand.

So I asked Access America for a few details. Here’s its response:

The travel insurance policy that Mr. Meth purchased is a “named perils” insurance policy that covers only the specific situations that are “covered reasons” to cancel a trip.

Canceling a trip for any reason other than a “covered reason,” would not trigger coverage under Mr. Meth’s insurance policy.

In addition, like all insurance products, Mr. Meth’s policy included a list of general and specific exclusions for coverage. Among the exclusions listed in Mr. Meth’s policy is “a mental or nervous health disorder (like anxiety, depression, neurosis, psychosis and others) or any related physical complications (physical complication means any physical symptom).”

Exclusions for mental or nervous health disorders are fairly standard in travel insurance policies.

Meth isn’t happy with that explanation.

“I feel that the insurance is useless and would discourage anyone from purchasing insurance from Access America,” he says.

But it isn’t so much that Meth had a useless policy. He may have just had the wrong policy. A more expensive “cancel for any reason” policy, either from Access America or another insurance provider, might have covered this cancellation.

As much as I hate having to move any grievance into the “case dismissed” file, I have no choice on this one. His policy didn’t cover him.

This is yet another good reason to shop carefully for a travel insurance policy. A review of Meth’s policy should have shown that a likely claim would probably not be honored.

That’s too bad. I hate having to tell anyone that they’re out of luck.

(Photo: ktsp/Flickr)