LAKELAND – Florida Conference congregations send mission groups all over the world, and now those do-gooders have access to international medical/accident insurance through the conference's Ministry Protection office.
The new coverage includes medical payments for injuries or sickness while participating in church-sponsored volunteer mission activities outside the U.S. It has been added to the existing insurance package that protects all conference churches and ministries.
|New insurance from the Florida Conference will benefit mission teams traveling outside of the U.S. Graphic from UMVIM.|
In addition to insurance covering medical and other emergency expenses, the program offers an international emergency contact, WorldAware Crisis Management. This toll-free contact is available round-the-clock for help with problems as mundane as lost luggage or passports or as serious as civil unrest, physical injuries and accidents, according to Mark Thomas, Ministry Protection director for the conference.
The coverage was added to answer a need that was evident but hard to measure because mission teams didn't apply for insurance through the conference, he said.
“We know that local churches do all kinds of mission work in places like Haiti, Cuba, Africa and Guatemala," Thomas said.
"We had no way of knowing where they were going or what the insurance exposure was, but we knew it was a lot.”
Before, mission volunteers had to seek insurance independently, contacting the Southeastern Jurisdiction United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) and paying for individual coverage, said Greg Harford, UMVIM coordinator for the conference.
Insurance was not required but “strongly suggested,” she said. However, insurance costs for the trip were a factor and caused some volunteers to go without insurance, which she described as “scary.”
|Mark Thomas||Greg Harford|
Coverage costs through UMVIM vary, depending on destination and length of stay, but it was not unusual for a mission team member to pay around $40 for coverage, and that did not include the new crisis management component, Harford said.
“This is a lifeline that means a volunteer has a 24/7 number where they can get in touch with a person who can help them,” she said.
“How exciting that our conference did this for us! I think it will encourage more people to volunteer.”
Thomas sees the insurance program as especially comforting for youth group volunteers and parents.
“I know if I were sending my 16- or 17-year-old, I would have more peace of mind to know that somebody’s got my back,” he said.
Thomas said there is no requirement for churches to notify the conference about their volunteer mission trips to activate coverage, but registering would be beneficial and will help build connections throughout the conference.
Additionally, international travel safety training is offered as part of the program. Online resources address such subjects as political stability, social concerns, cultural acceptability and how to contact sources for help in an emergency. Thomas said online training will be expanded in the future.
Besides coverage for accidents, sickness and accidental death and dismemberment, the new plan provides for evacuation travel expenses, repatriation of remains and reimbursement for baggage and personal property losses. In the event an insured individual dies while on a mission trip, the plan will pay for an immediate family member or someone else on the trip to escort the remains home.
Harford said that her department has been encouraged by the response to the program.
“We’re trying to strengthen the mission connection within the conference,” she said. In addition, she and Icel Rodriguez, director of Global Missions, have created identification cards that include insurance and crisis management phone numbers for volunteers.
“Now when they [mission teams] send me their contact information for each person, I send them a card which is very user-friendly,” Harford said.
Ultimately, it will be possible to register online, she said. For now, volunteers need to contact Harford, who will send them forms to fill out and return to her and she will in turn send the cards out.
In addition to connecting churches with regard to insurance, registering mission trips allows the conference to match volunteers who may want to go on a mission with a church that is going when their own church is not planning such a trip.
"This will benefit everybody in the long run," Harford said. "It opens up trips to those who might not otherwise know they are happening.”
The savings to mission trip volunteers now that the conference is offering the insurance can be put to good use, Harford said. The amount of the savings could be put toward costs for the trip or donated to UMVIM for scholarships for volunteers who need help paying for their trips.
The new insurance program is underwritten by ACE American Insurance Co. and covers only international travel while on a church trip. For more information, go to http://flumc2.org/pages/detail/1336.
-- Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.