NOTE TO ALL: This article has been MODIFIED as of March 3rd, 2018. PLEASE READ IN FULL.
DISCLAIMER: I am writing this in an attempt to help our pilot community make sure they are covered both at home and abroad if they have an accident while flying (paragliding, speed flying, hangliding, or skydiving). I AM NOT AN EXPERT and these are only opinions based on my research. PLEASE do your own research and make sure what I’m recommending covers you. This is a subject that seems to cause a lot of confusion and my hope is that this article will help you navigate these tricky waters. In particular this advice relates specifically to pilots living in the US and to some extent Canada. I believe if you live anywhere else you have a much easier system than we do and you are probably covered regardless… but if that isn’t the case please add your comments in the comment section below.
Some of you may have seen my recent article in Cross Country and USHPA about a rescue we had here in Sun Valley in 2016. We learned a lot about how a proper rescue goes down (if you haven’t seen these, try to get a copy- there’s some good information all pilots should understand and be versed in using), and we also learned a lot about insurance…and how important it is. Most if not all health insurance companies in the US have a long list of exclusions and unless you’ve created a special deal directly with your insurance company, sports like paragliding are usually on that exclusion list. However- NONE of the recommendations below are a substitute for health insurance. These are adjuncts designed to cover you when normal insurance doesn’t.
Travel Abroad. Very few health insurance companies cover repatriation (ie you get hurt in a foreign company and want to get to a hospital on your own home turf) if you are injured. More concerning, most will definitely not cover you if you are hurt participating in human flight activities. There are now three options for international travel and “extreme sports” that I know of. The cheapest seems to be the Patriot Travel Medical Insurance through IMG (make sure you get the “Adventure Sports Rider” addition to cover PG, HG, Base, etc.). Seven Corners “Dog Tag Extreme” covers HG and PG, but it does NOT cover you if you are hurt during a competition (as far as I know, there is no insurance that covers accidents that happen while competing, so keep this in mind). World Nomads is another one and also covers HG and PG under their “Explorers” plan, but note their benefits are considerably less than the Seven Corners Dog Tag Policy, and I have recently heard complaints about them refusing to cover in-country hospital bills and instead force you to repatriate before getting any care- an obvious problem if you’ve had a back injury for example!
Another option that I haven’t totally flushed out, but something I know for example Nick Greece uses when he travels, and activates if you are greater than 100 miles from home is Global Rescue. This covers evacuation and medjet assist and is a yearly plan, so if you travel a lot this could be a great option. Global Rescue requires two-way communication with either the covered person, or with someone who is with the injured person. Global Rescue is NOT Search, they just rescue.
Lifeflight. For helivac near home there are several options. If you live in the NW (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana) for $60 a year you and your spouse can have helivac service through Lifeflight. Our victim in the rescue here in Sun Valley was airlifted to a nearby hospital by a Lifeflight team. They were amazing. Super pro, very fast, very thorough. It’s $60 bucks a year. Silly not to have it. But what if you live somewhere else? Each area of the States has something similar. For example in Utah and Wyoming Intermountain Life Flight has your back. Medjet is another option, and there is a discount offered through USHPA (link here). One of our fellow pilots Bill Beninati works for Intermountain Life Flight and wanted me to make sure you all knew the following:
The most important message I put out to our UHGPGA members about Intermountain Life Flight is that we do search and rescue as a community service when we are requested by a county sheriff. These are the officials responsible for search and rescue in Utah. For example, we could conduct a helicopter search and a technical rescue – but there is no charge to the casualty from the point of rescue to the “trailhead”. In this context trailhead has an insurance definition but it amounts to about the same thing as what you view as the trailhead. At the trailhead our role changes from rescue to medical transport. At this point a conscious casualty can refuse care, go to care in their buddy’s car, take a ground ambulance, or go with us for a charge that is generally covered by medical insurance if they have this coverage, and directly billed to them if they don’t. For Intermountain Life Flight financial assistance is potentially available to those who truly can’t pay for medical transport, and we are part of a healthcare system that provides close to $300,000,000 in charity care every year. If the injured pilot is in critical condition obviously cost is not a consideration.
GEOS SAR and GEOS MEDEVAC offered through SPOT and GARMIN (InReach). These are both great services- but neither works for hangliding and paragliding! I’m currently working with Garmin to have them offer the correct one directly through their site, but if you have either GEOS SAR or Medevac go in right now and cancel the service (you will be credited for the unused portion), and then go to the GEOS site and buy the “GEOS HIGH RISK BENEFIT” (tab on the right). It will walk you through connecting the service to your tracking device (SPOT or Delorme). It costs $179 per year and is basically GEOS SAR rescue services but without the restrictions. For a full description of this service click here. GEOS only reimburses if the rescue is triggered via the SOS button on the SPOT or InReach. This is a problem – the pilot either has to trigger while conscious, or someone in the know has to do it. So, let everyone know to not call 911! Land next to the pilot and hit that button!
Many thanks to Stephen Crye and Kevin Lee for turning me onto these services and helping me research these solutions.
I’d love to hear what you think of this and if you have any questions, comments or concerns please put them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to keep this article updated. Be safe everyone and see you soon at cloudbase!