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Travel insurance: make sure you have proper cover, or face a hefty bill

Senior Couple With Scuba Diving Equipment
Illness or accidents abroad can prove very costly for those with travel insurance. Photograph: Alamy

Ahead of the peak holiday booking season, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is mounting a campaign to encourage holidaymakers to make sure they are properly insured. It comes amid claims that those who declare previous medical conditions are struggling to find affordable cover, and that cancer sufferers can be asked for as much as £2,300 to insure a week-long trip to France.

Quoting some frightening prices for receiving emergency treatment abroad, the FCO is hoping that the Costa del Insurance will be the first destination for British travellers during 2018.

The FCO said it can cost from £4,000 for medical repatriation aftercare following a heart attack in France to £80,000 for an air ambulance due to a fractured hip in Thailand.

Comparison website GoCompare makes similar warnings, citing the example of a woman who had a fall while skiing in Austria, tearing her anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments and needing surgery to repair them. Her bill for treatment was £9,439.

Travel insurance is by no means mandatory, and policies are often riddled with so many get-out clauses that plenty of consumers have been left wondering why they bothered. Many frequent travellers on short-hop trips to Europe will argue that insurance is barely worth the cost, and that the European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) provides a basic level of health protection.

But Julia Longbottom, consular director at the Foreign Office, says arranging travel insurance should be at the top of your holiday essentials before heading overseas. “Travellers are losing thousands of pounds in medical bills and their families are having to find the money to help cover the cost or even repatriate them, Having the appropriate travel insurance in place will help ensure that you get the support you need, should something go wrong overseas.” she adds.

She warns against relying on the Ehic as it does not cover some costs such as repatriation. Travellers should also remember that the level of free public healthcare can vary between countries, so British nationals may not have access to the same specialist treatment that they would at home, the FCO warns. There is also no clarity as to what happens to the Ehic after Brexit.

But while basic travel policies are cheap and easy to buy for anyone who has not suffered serious medical problems, getting reasonably priced cover for those who have suffered serious medical problems can be a nightmare.

Research by this week found that premiums typically double or treble if the insured declares a significant previous problem such as a heart attack or angina. Last June, the Financial Conduct Authority asked for evidence of the challenges faced by consumers who have, or have had, cancer, in accessing affordable travel insurance.

“The golden rule when arranging cover is to be scrupulously honest when asked about your medical history, even if you have fully recovered, are not taking medication or receiving treatment, and have been given the all-clear by your doctor. If you leave something out, the insurer might challenge your claim and ask to see your medical records, says MSM’s Kevin Pratt.

Later this month, a new insurer is set to launch promising a fairer deal for those with previous conditions. Bought By Many says its customers won’t face a 30-minute interrogation into every aspect of their medical history. Instead, the company will ask whether their doctor has passed therm fit to travel.

Bought By Many’s boss, Steven Mendel, says cancer suffers are regularly charged more than £2,000 to cover a week in Europe.

“Getting a quote is a frustratingly slow process, with insurers asking intrusive medical questions. And prices are often high for people with the most serious conditions, meaning they may make the risky decision to travel without insurance and potentially face huge medical bills if they need treatment. Some decide not to travel at all,” he says. The company will formally launch on 22 January. Another company that claims to offer affordable cover for the over-65s with existing conditions is EhicPlus.

Feeling lucky?

If you choose not to declare a previous condition – accepting that you won’t be covered if it reoccurs – can the insurer turn down a medical claim for an unrelated matter? The Association of British Insurers says a failure to declare medical conditions could invalidate your policy if the withheld information would have led to the refusal of cover.

In practice, it says, insurers will assess if any non-disclosure that has subsequently come to light was the cause of or a contributory factor to the claim. Non-disclosure of a heart condition may well not be connected to say, tripping over a paving stone and injuring your ankle. “In making this judgment insurers will seek expert medical guidance and will be mindful of the view that the financial ombudsman may take,” says a spokesman.

This article titled "Travel insurance: make sure you have proper cover, or face a hefty bill" was written by Miles Brignall, for The Guardian on Saturday 13 January 2018 07.00am


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