Medical conditions pose one of the biggest stumbling blocks travellers face when it comes to buying travel insurance.
According to the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), more than 14 million people with underlying health conditions try to purchase travel insurance every year – a significant percentage of the overall market.
Of these, an estimated one in 10 end up travelling with insurance that is not appropriate for them, leaving them exposed to sky-high medical costs if they fall ill while abroad and need to make a claim. This has led to moves by the FCA to improve the way travel cover is signposted and explained for people with specific health needs.
Even more worrying, no one is quite sure how many people with medical conditions go abroad every year without even attempting to buy appropriate travel cover – either because they are not aware that they need to, or because they expect to be refused and/or charged a premium they cannot afford.
Again, this puts people at significant financial risk, given the high costs of medical care for foreign travellers when you don’t have valid insurance.
Buying travel insurance when you have a pre-existing medical condition is different to purchasing basic, generic cover through a comparison site. It can also be a frustrating experience.
But reliable, affordable cover for any and all medical conditions is available. Here’s what you need to know to find it.
Why is travel insurance different if I have a medical condition?
Travel insurance is all about managing risk. Those high costs of medical treatment for foreign visitors mentioned above? Well, the whole reason medical cover is included in travel policies is to take the risk out of your hands and pass it to your insurance company. All for a fee, of course.
Travel insurance providers set their fees according to the probability of a claim being made. The average medical claim payout is around £1,300, versus an average single trip policy cost of around £10. That means if the frequency of medical claims is less than one in every 130 policies sold (in practice it is considerably less), the insurance company makes a profit.
Of course, some claims are much, much higher in value. But these big claims are also much rarer. And the insurance companies are too smart to work on crude averages alone. Anything that increases the likelihood of a medical claim being made, such as going on a winter sports holiday or a pre-existing medical condition, they bump their prices up. Or, if they consider the risk too high, they refuse to offer cover at all.
That is why travel insurance for pre-existing medical conditions is treated differently to standard cover, and why it is usually more expensive.
Why do I need to declare a medical condition to my insurer?
One of the things that really trips people up about getting travel cover for a medical condition is the fact that they have to declare it when buying. The fact that the onus is on the customer and not the insurance provider to make sure this happens is something the industry needs to look at. But for now, that’s the way it is.
The reason insurance companies ask you to tell them about any medical conditions is so, as explained above, they can adjust their pricing or make a decision on whether they want to offer you cover at all.
Not declaring a medical condition is a bad idea. If you buy a standard policy and then need to make a medical claim, your insurance company will void your entire policy – even if your claim has nothing to do with your condition. They’re allowed to do this on the basis that they weren’t given the full facts needed to assess the risks of selling you insurance.
What conditions do I have to declare?
Knowing which conditions to declare can be a major headache for customers. The problem is that some medical conditions will be automatically included in most medical policy schedules.
So if you have asthma, for example, it is very likely that this will be included in the medical cover of most travel insurance policies. But what is and isn’t included varies from provider to provider and from policy to policy. To be sure, you really should check, which means reading the small print carefully.
As a rule of thumb, if you have any medical condition that has been formally diagnosed by a doctor, which you are taking medication for or which you have received treatment for in the past, you should check the policy details carefully. This includes mental health as well as physical conditions. If your condition isn’t listed as included, you have to declare it.
What can I do if my insurer refuses to cover my condition?
If you have been diagnosed with a medical condition since you last bought travel insurance, it can be disconcerting and frustrating when your normal provider refuses to sell you a policy next time.
But never fear – there are specialist providers out there who will insure you, and will do so based on a thorough assessment of your personal circumstances, so they can offer you the best possible rates. Find out more here.