A couple's dream holiday was ruined and to make matters worse, the bills kept piling up to an astronomical amount, writes Lauren McMah of News.com.au
In an instant, this Australian couple's idyllic holiday turned into a month-long nightmare — and a horror story for any traveller who has to face the "frightening" American health care system when something goes wrong.
Katie-Anne Salter and her partner Jacob Lanigan, from Perth, were road tripping from San Francisco to Yosemite, where they planned to go on a hiking adventure during their travels last year.
But while they driving up a hill on their way to Yosemite, another car came from seemingly nowhere and crashed into them head-on.
"A car (came) the other way, flying out of control," Mr Lanigan said, recalling the frightening experience.
"Both of us were screaming. There's just airbags in your face, broken glass everywhere."
The driver of the other car was killed. The Australians survived the crash, but moments after impact, Ms Salter felt a terrible pain in her back.
What the couple would find out after she had been carefully airlifted to the nearest trauma centre was that a vertebrae in Ms Salter's lower spine had been so badly injured in the impact it had, as she put it, "burst" into pieces.
"My L4 vertebrae had actually burst so it had burst so it had little parts of bone spread out," Ms Salter said.
"It was actually rubbing very close to my spinal nerve."
The injured tourist had several surgeries and spent about five days in the intensive care unit before being moved to a general ward, and then referred to rehabilitation, assisted along the way by her insurer Cover-More.
The crash had initially left Ms Salter unable to walk.
"My main priority was can I walk again? I didn't really anticipate how hard it would be," she said.
Thankfully, she did — and about a month after the accident, the couple were flown, by business class, back to Australia, where Ms Salter is continuing to recover.
But had she not made the decision to take out travel insurance before the trip, she would have been in a huge amount of financial trouble.
Ms Salter's total insurance claim came to an eye-watering AU$900,000 ($941,012), which Cover-More was able to take care of.
"Kate's parent's flights were covered, the helicopter was covered, they said all my medical bills were covered, all Kate's medical bills were covered so we didn't need to worry about that at all," Mr Lanigan said.
But while the total cost of the accident was huge, that's pretty standard for an incident of its kind in the United States, a popular destination notorious for having some of the highest medical expenses in the world.
"It is not unusual for claims to be this high for serious motor vehicle accident cases, especially in the United States," Cover-More Travel Insurance's group communications manager Maureen Mullins told news.com.au.
"Kate required emergency surgery and lengthy hospitalisation to recover — cases of this type in the US can easily reach $1 million.
"The US health care system is complex and can be confusing for Australian travellers because it is so very different to our own. You're charged for everything.
"Your medical bill will usually contain an itemised bill for every single treatment and item of medication you receive, even a simple headache tablet.
"It is a complicated system that ultimately serves a profit motive and one that is frightening for Australian travellers to try and navigate alone."
Travellers in even a reasonably safe destination like the US are risking a lot if they head over uninsured.
"If you are uninsured and you present at a hospital in the US for treatment, you are usually required to make a pre-payment, secured by a credit card, and each day you stay in hospital you will be under constant pressure to keep your account up to date," Ms Mullins said.
"Uninsured patients may also be able to negotiate a 'self-pay' discount however, these also vary from hospital to hospital and are not mandatory.
"If an Australian traveller finds themselves, uninsured, in a US hospital, it could quickly evolve into a terrifying situation where they see their medical bills quickly start running in to the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars and their credit card limits and those of their fellow travellers start to be severely tested."