Take Measures To Protect Family’s Health In The Event Of A Natural Disaster

Survivors of hurricanes Rita and Katrina will tell you -- advance preparation for severe weather is important. Take your family, your pets and your wallet or purse, right? But they’ll also tell you what you don’t expect to hear -- it’s critical to consider health information when planning ahead for a natural disaster. If you have to flee your home, you’ll need contact information for your doctors, as well as information on your health coverage and medical history to maintain your health and financial security.

Plan for Your Health, a partnership between Aetna and the Financial Planning Association, is a resource to help people quickly and easily prepare their essential health benefits information. The Web site features a personal health information record to fill out in advance and offers tips on handling your health benefits if you’re displaced or affected by a natural disaster.

Preparing in Advance

Think about steps you can take now to plan for the possibility of displacement, an injury or a life-threatening emergency as a result of a natural disaster.

* If you have health insurance, review your policy. Learn what coverage your plan provides when you are away from home. Consider reviewing how to access care outside your network of physicians and hospitals. Also learn about your plan’s coverage for catastrophic or long-term injuries, including coverage for rehabilitation and the lifetime maximum the policy will pay.

* If you don’t have health insurance, get it. Go to www.eHealthInsurance.com to get a quote for an individual insurance plan, or contact an insurance agent or broker, or check health plan Web sites.

* Prepare an evacuation box that is fireproof, lockable and can be quickly grabbed in an emergency. Keep all your important financial documents in this box, including legal documents, information on bank accounts and insurance policies, and your personal health information record (see below).

* Create a personal health information record. A form is available on website to download and print. List doctors, medications and allergies, and make sure you update the record once a year. Include copies of health insurance cards and immunization records. Talk to your doctors to request a 14-day supply of current medications and extra copies of prescriptions for medicines and eyeglasses.

* Don’t forget your pet! If you have to evacuate, the most important thing you can do to protect your pets is to take them with you. Prepare by creating a portable pet disaster supply kit to store medications, a first aid kit and a leash or carrier. Include current information on feeding schedules, medical conditions and medical records, behavior problems and the name and phone number of your veterinarian.

Disaster Recovery

If you or your loved ones are injured or become ill as the result of a disaster, take steps to get the medical care and coverage you need. Follow these tips to manage your health benefits after a natural disaster:

* If you are injured or become ill, get care immediately if you can. Local emergency services may be able to direct you to alternative care locations if your regular treatment settings are unavailable.

* Notify your employer in case you need to apply for time off, disability or unemployment insurance.

* Call your health insurance provider’s customer service department to find out what to do to make a claim.

* Save any medical or prescription receipts to submit for Flexible Spending Account (FSA) reimbursements, if you have an account. A FSA is a tax-advantaged account established in connection with an employer-sponsored benefits plan that can be used to pay for medical expenses.

* Know your rights. If you are not receiving payment for the medical treatment you need, contact your insurance company to explain the circumstances. Working with state and federal regulators, insurers often make coverage exceptions and bend claim submission rules for victims of a natural disaster. You also can appeal a decision within the company if you think the insurer made the wrong coverage decision. You also can ask your doctor to write a letter or call the insurance company to explain why you need the care. A hospital social worker may also be able to help you.


Don’t Panic

If you have to evacuate and you don’t have time to gather your health information, don’t panic --your health insurance provider may be able to help by recreating your health information from their records. Health insurance companies may also alter their coverage and policies during relief efforts, allowing you more flexibility in getting care and submitting claims. In response to last year’s storms, many health plans permitted members in hurricane-affected areas to seek care from out-of-network doctors without penalties, allowed for early prescription refills and shipped prescriptions to members at alternative addresses.

Ned Gonzalez