[IRP] Update on proposed U.S. State Department Form DS-5513

Katitza Rodriguez katitza
Sat May 14 00:33:27 EEST 2011

for those who asked about this issue, fyi

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: 	[The Practical Nomad Newsletter] Amazing Race 18, Ep. 9 
(travel insurance)
Date: 	Fri, 13 May 2011 14:29:53 -0700
From: 	Edward Hasbrouck <edward at hasbrouck.org>
Organization: 	The Practical Nomad
To: 	newsletter at hasbrouck.org

Update on proposed U.S. State Department Form DS-5513:
"Biographical Questionnaire" for (some) passport applicants:


(Includes links to Glenn Beck reading from one of my articles on the air,
an interview I did with Southern California Public Radio, and more.)

In response to my alerts, more than 3,000 of you filed objections to this
proposal with the State Dept. on the final day of the public comment
period.  Thanks to you, the State Dept. now says it will "revise" the
proposed form, but still plans to re-submit it in what it likely to be
only slightly-modified and slightly-less-outrageous form. Stay tuned.

(Dealing with the flood of interest in the proposed passport application
form has left me slightly behind on my coverage of "The Amazing Race". I
hope to catch up with my column on the season finale of the race shortly.)


This column with links:

*The Amazing Race 18, Episode 9 (travel insurance)*

Zermatt (Switzerland)

Who can you call on for help when things go wrong in a foreign country?
And what can they do?

This week the remaining teams on "The Amazing Race 18" got to act out some
of the roles of Alpine emergency first responders. Carried by rescue
helicopter to a snowfield and glacier below the Matterhorn outside
Zermatt, each couple had to choose between locating and digging out a
mannequin buried by a simulated avalanche, or having one partner lower the
other into a crevasse in the ice and haul them back out with the "victim"
of a simulated fall.

In real life, neither a rescue team nor a television production crew is
likely to be standing by if you get into trouble like this, nor are you
likely to have time to wait for them to arrive. The most obvious real-
world lesson is that you shouldn't be hiking on a glacier or into
avalanche-prone backcountry without self-rescue gear (such as the personal
radio beacons used to locate avalanche victims) and the knowledge of how
to use it.

There's a more general lesson here as well, applicable even to people who
aren't engaging in extreme winter mountain sports: In life or death
situations, travellers are almost always dependent on their own resources
and on local emergency services. Being wealthy and/or having insurance may
help you get access to better quality long-term follow-up medical
treatment. But neither wealth nor insurance can or will do anything to
reduce the health or safety risks of any of the things you do, or might
do, while travelling, or provide you with better emergency rescue or
medical services.

That should be obvious, of course, but it's a lesson that isn't often
reflected in travellers' decisions. It's natural for travellers to worry
about what strange things might go wrong when they travel to a strange
land. But many travellers try to cope with that fear -- a fear rooted more
in fear of the unknown than in rational risk assessment, as I've discussed
in "The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World" and in other
articles -- by buying so-called travel insurance as a security blanket.

I get more questions from travellers about travel insurance than about any
specific issue other than airline tickets, and my FAQ about travel
insurance is one of the most visited pages on my Web site. My sense is
that many people have difficulty choosing insurance products not just
because travel insurance marketers prey on people's fears but because many
would-be purchasers of travel insurance want to buy "safety", which is
something that insurance can't provide.

Insurance salespeople talk about all the bad things that could happen, but
talk much less about what, if any, difference -- often, none at all, at
least in the short-term -- it will make to have insurance if things do go

For example, the dollar value of your luggage is likely to be the least of
your problems if all of your possessions are stolen while you are
travelling. No insurance will make you less likely to have your pocket
picked, to lose your wallet -- or to fall into a crevasse. No insurance
will have any effect on the bureaucratic hoops you have to go through to
get your passport and other travel documents replaced. No travel insurance
will have any effect on the likelihood that you will get sick, whether
from traveller's diarrhea or from a flareup of a pre-existing medical
condition. With rare exceptions, no insurance will make any difference in
how long it takes you to get to a doctor if you are sick or injured, or
how skilled the local doctor will be.

Unlike health care providers in the USA, few foreign doctors or hospitals
will be willing to bill a travel insurance company directly. You'll have
to pay for medical services, get detailed documentation, and submit it for
eventual reimbursement if your claim is allowed.

The only risk on which travel insurance will have any effect is the
financial risk that you will come home poorer as a result of the out-of-
pocket costs of dealing with things that went wrong. Buying travel
insurance won't make you safer and won't make travel safer.

Buying insurance may or may not be a rational financial decision,
depending on your financial ability to self-insure for particular risks,
but it's not a rational response to fear of the unknown or fear of any but
the financial consequences of things that might go wrong. Either take
risks or don't take risks, but don't think that insurance can or will make
travel risk-free.

Only after you separate insurance decisions from your personal mechanisms
for coping with fear can you begin to think about which bad things:
are more likely to happen while you are travelling than at home,
would have financial consequences for which you can't afford to self-
insure, and
aren't covered by any of your existing insurance policies.

These, and only these, are the particular types of coverage you should
consider purchasing.

Unfortunately, "travel insurance" is usually sold as a bundle of coverages
some of which are essentially worthless, others of which are unlikely to
have costs so high that most travelers are better off self-insuring for
them, and others of which often duplicate existing health or homeowner's
insurance (for those who have such coverage at home) or are likely be
cheaper as a "rider" to your existing insurance coverage rather than as a
separate travel insurance policy.

Some travel insurance policies are bundled with "emergency assistance"
services. These services provide a telephone number that you can call in
an emergency to talk to someone (in English) who will, to the extent
possible, assist you with things like finding a doctor or a lawyer or
getting your passport and documents replaced. That sounds good, except for
the fact that it's usually easier to find a doctor by asking local people,
and that nothing that can be done by by phone from the USA by a third-
party is likely to expedite any of these tasks. And keep in mind that when
they say that an emergency assistance service will help you find a doctor,
lawyer, etc., that doesn't mean that the service or the travel insurance
company will pay for that doctor or lawyer, or even reimburse those costs
after the fact.

Edward Hasbrouck
<edward at hasbrouck.org>

"The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World" (4th ed. 2007)
"The Practical Nomad Guide to the Online Travel Marketplace"

Also available for Kindle, iPhone, or iPod Touch:

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