If the fact of having a major health issue while over seas wasn't bad enough, the cost of medical care abroad can be heart-stoppingly expensive - particularly for the uninsured traveller.

Here are 10 hospital bills which add insult to injury, as Southern Cross Travel Insurance has released their most expensive payouts for customers who ran into trouble abroad last year

It only took a split second for an Australian traveller's dream honeymoon to turn to "hell" — one that cost an eye-watering $188000.

Helen Povall, from Victoria, was on holiday in Peru when she accidentally fell backwards and tumbled five metres while taking in the view of spectacular Machu Picchu.

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Trip to Peru: Mrs Povall suffered a $187,000 bill after falling off the landmark. Photo / Getty Images
Trip to Peru: Mrs Povall suffered a $187,000 bill after falling off the landmark. Photo / Getty Images

And the cost of medical treatment for the simple accident ended up being one of the top 10 most expensive medical claims lodged last year with insurer Southern Cross Travel Insurance, which warns claims are particularly high in North and South America.

Ms Povall was enjoying the fourth day of her honeymoon sightseeing in Peru with wife Ann when she fell on the steep stairs to Machu Picchu.

"There was nothing to grab a hold off. Then I fell off the stairs and into space," she said.

"I landed on a stone with the full force of my body, right over the right hip area. I knew as soon as I hit it I had fractured by femur."

Ms Povall, who is aged in her 60s, said she was normally fit and healthy and suspected altitude sickness in the difficult Peruvian terrain contributed to her fall.

Bystanders rushed to Ms Povall's aid and she was eventually carried down a mountain on a stretcher. She then had a difficult journey to hospital in Cusco via two ambulances and a train.

"I felt every bump on the ride and thought, I must be in hell," she said.


"This stuff does not happen to ordinary people like ourselves."

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The staff at the hospital at Cusco weren't equipped to deal with the severity of Ms Povall's injury so her insurer, Southern Cross Travel Insurance, organised her transfer to a hospital in the Peruvian capital of Lima.

There, she had surgery on her hip and spent two weeks in hospital. She was again transferred, this time to Santiago, Chile, where she spent a week in rehab until she was fit to fly.

"Scary does not cover it," she said. "Most staff spoke little to no English and I had equally poor Spanish. We used Google Translate a lot."

Ms Povall eventually flew home to Melbourne accompanied by a nurse.

The final $188000 bill was covered by her insurer.

Still, she said the experience was difficult and prompted her to retire earlier than planned.

"It's not the way I planned to finish my working days as I'm usually fit and healthy. You just have to deal with the changes you are dealt and adapt," she said.

"I'm so grateful to be alive and home."

The most expensive claim received by Southern Cross Travel Insurance (SCTI) in 2018 was $266000 from a customer in their 60s who suffered a heart attack in the US.

In second place was a traveller in Canada who suffered from severe complications related to cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection, which led to a $215000 bill.

Ms Povall's $182,000 claim was the third-highest of the year.

Some claims were from hospital admissions that weren't particularly dramatic. One traveller aged in the 40s racked up a $90500 medical bill in the US after suffering vertigo as a result of an inner ear infection.

The United States, where medical treatment is notoriously high, accounting for half of Southern Cross Travel Insurance claims, the company's chief executive Chris White said.

NDNY: The USA is most expensive place to need medical treatement as a tourist. Photo / Getty images
NDNY: The USA is most expensive place to need medical treatement as a tourist. Photo / Getty images

But he said travel insurance was important regardless of the destination.

"Everyone wants to be able to focus on the adventures of their holiday rather than worrying about what can go wrong," he said.

"Even on a short trip to Bali, a few days in hospital after an accident can interrupt your travel plans and lead to hefty medical bills. In the grand scheme of things, travel insurance is a small but important cost that has the potential to save a lot of stress and expense."

He said air ambulances were often the cause of escalating costs.

"One customer required two separate air ambulances after they broke their hip, one to a nearby city for surgery and another for rehabilitation in a different country," he said.

"This is unusual and shows that sometimes one medical evacuation is not enough."

SCTI'S TOP INSURANCE CLAIMS OF 2018

$266000, US: Heart attack

$215000, Canada: Complications related to bacterial skin infection

$188000, South America: Broken hip

$158000, US: Broken pelvis

$136000, US: Pneumonia and heart failure

$110000, US: Subdural haematoma (pooled blood pushing on the brain) after a fall

$91000, US: Vertigo as a result of an inner ear infection

$90500, South East Asia: Pneumonia

$82800, Europe: Broken hip

$73000, South East Asia: Multiple trauma after a fall.