The back and fourth between the Nepali government and insurance companies that provide coverage for travelers visiting the country continues. The two sides are at odds after an elaborate scam that costs the insurance companies hundreds of thousands of dollars was exposed last summer, which prompted some insurance companies to threaten to pull coverage of visitors to Nepal. Recently, the war of words escalated once again when Traveller Assist, which provides such coverage, made a similar threat citing the fact that no one involved with the scam had actually faced any real legal action. Now comes a report from Nepali media saying the company has used lies to threaten the Nepali government, private citizens, and hospitals within the country.
All of this drama springs from the so-called “helicopter rescue scam” that garnered headlines last summer. Essentially, trekking guides in Nepal were working with helicopter rescue organizations and local hospitals in an elaborate insurance fraud operation. The guides would often encourage trekkers under their care to seek medial attention if they weren’t feeling well, even if the symptoms were minor and not at all a cause for concern. The trekkers would then get picked up by a helicopter, flown to a nearby medical center, and examined by a doctor. Those doctors, who were also in on the scam, would run a battery of test, many of which were not necessary. The charges for the “rescue” would then be passed on to the insurance companies, with the average cost running around $40,000.
When the scam was exposed last year, the Nepali government claimed to have shut it down and taken over control of all rescue operations. But the scam reportedly continued throughout the fall trekking season, prompting Traveller Assist to once again call out the fraud and threaten to pull coverage. This sparked outrage in Nepal, where officials say the investigation is still ongoing and that TA is attempting to blackmail the government and privately owned businesses into complying with its wishes.
Recently, an in-depth article published by the Kathmandu Post took a look at the entire affair and hit back at Traveller Assist saying the company didn’t represent all of the smaller travel insurance brands that it claimed were under its umbrella. It also says that TA friend to make its own agreements with local helicopter rescue companies in an effort get them to verify TA coverage and get permission before assisting a client. The report also indicates that a representative of Traveller Assist also claimed to represent various governments, including the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Those claims were made, according to the report, in an effort to apply pressure to the government, although their veracity remains in question.
If you’ve been following this story for any length of time it just seems to continue to get more convoluted. Both sides are now accusing each other of all kinds of wrong doing and it’s getting more difficult to know who is telling the truth. It is clear that the helicopter scam took place dozens of times at the very least and that insurance companies lost tens thousands of dollar in the process. But whether or not the Nepali government has done anything about it remains a bit of a mystery, as does the resining behind the lack of legal action for anyone involved. I suppose if you’ve spent any time in Nepal, the reasoning may not be all that strange though considering how rampant corruption and fraud are there.
At this point, Nepali officials have launched another investigation into the man who claimed to be representing Traveller Assist and the operations of the company in general. It looks like it will be some time before this matter is resolved, if ever. My recommendations remain the same as when I last wrote about this ongoing story. If you’re headed to Nepal, double check to make sure your travel insurance will cover you. And keep an eye out for fraudsters.