Back on the slopes: Lucy White had taken out travel insurance before her accident in 2018, but it was still a hard fight to get a payout
Lying immobilised on my back in a French ski resort trauma centre, after a nasty fall in which I’d broken two vertebrae, I was relieved to find out I hadn’t damaged my spinal cord. I was also relieved that I’d bought travel insurance – so at least there wouldn’t be a grim medical bill thrust in my face when I managed to get back on my feet.
Back in 2018, I’d gone for one of the cheapest annual policies I could find on a comparison site – £16.68 with Alpha Insurance. When the firm reminded me to renew the policy last year, for £15.86, I checked that it still included winter sports cover and happily went along with the purchase. But as soon as I needed Alpha and tried to get in touch, my problems began.
I was taken by ambulance from the trauma centre to hospital. Ambulances in France are run by private companies, and the paramedic told me she would need to see a guarantee from my insurance provider that it would pay for the hour-and-a-half journey. So, in the ambulance winding down the French Alps, I called Alpha’s emergency line. Almost two hours later, as I was wheeled into A&E, I was still on hold, and my retired father had to pay the £220 bill.
He had already given his credit card details to the trauma centre, which said it would withdraw its £340 charge for treatment from his account if Alpha hadn’t paid within 30 days.
He was finally able to get hold of Alpha as I was being treated, and was assured by a representative that if he emailed copies of the bills, the outstanding fees would be paid and he’d be reimbursed. He did so immediately.
After three days in hospital, the doctors were happy to discharge me. Luckily, I’d avoided surgery.
I had kept Alpha in the loop the whole time, as I was keen to get home as soon as possible — by this point, my family were all back in the UK.
I explained to the person on Alpha’s claims line that I could travel home by plane as long as I was lying down.
They said they needed to check the treatment notes, which were immediately sent over. A day later, I had still heard nothing.
Ambulances in France are run by private companies, so Lucy was told she would need to see a guarantee from her insurance provider that it would pay for her hour-and-a-half journey
Again, I rang Alpha and was on hold for around an hour. When someone finally answered, they said they needed more detailed notes, and that, because it was a weekend, their doctors might not be able to make a decision on whether or not to fly me home until Monday.
By now, the hospital was at a loss as to what more information they could give. The staff even offered to answer any questions directly on the phone. But, despite my prompts, Alpha did not call.
Meanwhile, I was taking up valuable bed space in a hospital swamped with skiing injuries.
As the days progressed, the nurses were asking me increasingly pointed questions about when I might be leaving. After day six, I was so angry with Alpha’s delays that I tweeted about its appalling service.
My Twitter account mentions that I’m a journalist, which seemed to spur it into action.
Just one in six annual travel insurance policies includes cover for winter sports, according to data analysts Defaqto.
Nearly a third of winter sports policies will rule out a claim if you weren’t wearing a helmet, and only 3 per cent have no restrictions on off-piste skiing.
Most require you to have a qualified guide or to stay within the resort boundaries.
After eight days in hospital and an argument about whether or not I could fly home on a stretcher (apparently I couldn’t ‘in case air gets into your fractures and the cabin pressure worsens them’), Alpha sent a private ambulance from Kent to pick me up by road.
And 14 hours later I was finally home. Despite being assured over the phone that my hospital bill would be paid, I received nothing from Alpha for weeks after I returned.
It owed my father almost £1,000 for sums he’d had to cover up-front, and I then received a £1,900 hospital bill.
The firm behind Alpha Insurance is Tifgroup, which also provides travel insurance under Boots, Holidaysafe, Insurancewith and other brands.
I found some online reviews detailing similar experiences to mine, and many a lot worse. I recommend reading these before buying any cover — not all insurers are equal, and cheaper may not mean better.
Following Money Mail’s intervention, Alpha finally repaid me and agreed to waive the £150 excess.
A spokesperson says: ‘Our experts’ view was that it was too soon to risk flying, and Ms White would have to wait a further ten days before it was safe for her to fly home.
‘All decisions about repatriation are taken by our doctors purely on medical grounds and in the best interests of the patient’s short and long-term health.’
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