It is pretty standard for most employers to pay for meals, lodging, transportation and other expenses incurred by employees traveling on business. And, for about the price of a quick meal at the airport, employers can also provide each of their traveling employees with business travel accident, or BTA, coverage for a full year. BTA can provide both peace of mind and extra assistance to business travelers when the unexpected arises.
Although corporate meeting technology continues to advance, face-to-face meetings remain a business necessity. In fact, according to the National Business Travel Association's 2008 U.S. Business Travel Overview & Cost Forecast report, business travel will continue to grow in 2008. As a result, it's important for employers to take a fresh look at accident coverage, which can include robust living benefits that support and protect traveling employees.
Accident coverage is often overlooked as a means to provide protection and peace of mind to an employer's workforce, and some benefits professionals might be unaware of the types of resources now available through their employer's BTA plans. Today's policies go beyond simply providing financial protection to those who suffer a loss while traveling by also providing a dedicated staff of professionals who provide a variety of travel assistance services. Employees can call for help from anywhere in the world, at any time of day.
These travel assistance services available through BTA coverage can help fill a gap normally not covered by employees' healthcare benefits. For example, although healthcare coverage might fund any medical treatment necessary while traveling, travel assistance services through BTA can provide funding for the costs associated with getting assistance for transportation and communication needs.
The following are services offered through BTA insurance that employers should consider when evaluating how best to protect and support their traveling employees.
Worldwide Travel Assistance Services
China, the United Kingdom and India are the top three international destinations with the highest potential for growth in corporate travel spend in 2008, according to the 2008 U.S. Business Travel Overview & Cost Forecast report. Therefore, employers should look for BTA coverage that provides global travel assistance. When problems occur overseas they are often compounded by unfamiliar languages, customs and healthcare systems.
Equally important, employers should consider a BTA plan that includes travel assistance services that will cover their employees domestically as well. In the event of a medical emergency, some insurers offer programs that will arrange for and cover the cost of transportation to the nearest hospital or medical facility where a covered member can receive appropriate care, provide up-front payment for medical services that are often required when abroad, and provide emergency travel evacuation for travelers facing a medical emergency so that they are able to receive the highest level of care available.
As an example, one Cigna member experienced severe cardiac symptoms while on a business assignment in Indonesia. The company was able to evacuate him by air ambulance to neighboring Singapore so that he could receive more advanced medical care. He underwent heart bypass surgery and, due to the anticipated length of hospitalization, the insurer covered the cost of transporting his wife to be by his side.
The travel costs for both the employee and his wife would not have been covered as part of his health plan. Without these services, this employee would not have had immediate access to the medical facility in Singapore or encountered costly out-of-pocket travel expenses.
BTA coverage can also provide referrals to local medical, legal and financial assistance, as needed. It can help employees recover or replace lost luggage, passports, or other important documents and possessions while traveling.
Traveling abroad requires an extra level of preparation as employees could face different needs in different countries. Employers should look for coverage that offers pre-trip support for employees traveling abroad by providing information on: immunization requirements, visa and passport requirements, foreign exchange rates, embassy/consular referrals, travel/tourist advisories, temperature and weather conditions, and cultural information. This support is a priceless resource for anyone traveling abroad and a necessity for employers asking their employees to travel overseas.
Emergency Travel Services
With certain accident plans, employers can also offer their workforce emergency travel services. Such services provide much needed support when the unexpected arises, including: emergency cash advances with confirmation of reimbursement; emergency changes to travel plans; emergency message relay to friends, relatives and business associates; legal referrals, translation and interpretation assistance; and assistance with lost or stolen items. Such support can be a great tool to attract and retain valuable talent that might otherwise be hesitant to travel.
Identity Theft Coverage
Employers can go a step further to provide their employees with additional ease while traveling for business by considering a BTA plan that makes identity theft coverage available. Some identity theft programs will offer additional services to employees who are more than 100 miles from home including a $1,000 cash advance, translation services for working with foreign authorities, assistance in making travel arrangements, and help in relaying messages to family and friends.
Standard services of these programs often include contacting credit-card companies to cancel fraudulent accounts, helping complete documentation, and assisting with replacement of lost or stolen documents. When a wallet is lost at home it can be stressful enough, but even more so when far from home.
PLANS OFFER FLEXIBILITY
BTA coverage not only offers valuable services for employers to consider, but flexible plan options exist too. More often than not, it is only a portion of an employer's workforce that travels for the company. With this in mind, some BTA policies are flexible enough to be designed only for those employees who need them most.
Employers can look for flexible coverage that will provide protection for executives and other key employees. Some carriers even offer BTA plans that provide coverage options such as business and pleasure or occupational coverage to provide enhanced protection tailored to certain employees. This is yet another great tool to gain employee buy-in for business travel.
Finally, carriers can also offer a designated accident claims unit that has greater depth of knowledge and the expertise required to handle unique accident claims. Employers should ask about a carrier's claims procedures when shopping for BTA policies. Specialized knowledge of accident claims enables an insurer to pay claims quickly and accurately, and provide highly specialized expertise as well as the ability to keep premium costs down.
Employees are employers' most valuable asset. As such, the value of BTA should not be underestimated. For a small fee, employers can protect and support traveling employees while at the same time help them deal with any number of risks they may encounter while traveling on business.
DAN BERENBAUM is senior director of accident and specialty for Cigna Group Insurance--Life, Accident and Disability.
July 1, 2008
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