For people suffering from cancer and other serious conditions, finding adequate travel insurance can be tricky. But help is at hand from specialist companies providing great cover at reasonable cost
Finding suitable travel insurance after a cancer diagnosis can be fraught with problems. The premiums quoted online often cost more than the holiday or else any claim relating to the cancer is excluded.
Action is underway that should lead to better levels of insurance and more reasonable prices for those with medical conditions. But in the meantime consumers must know where to look to avoid buying inadequate cover.
All insurers and comparison websites will soon be required to signpost consumers with pre-existing conditions to specialist travel insurers, whether they have offered them a quote for cover or not. It follows an investigation into this market by the regulator – the Financial Conduct Authority.
Andrew Williams, business development manager for specialist travel insurer Free Spirit, says: “The FCA is in discussions with insurers, and changes should be coming soon, which is great news for anyone with cancer or any other serious condition who has struggled to find insurance. Cover is out there for people in this situation but it can be difficult to know how to get it.”
A recent survey by consumer group Which? found that when consumers with pre-existing medical conditions apply for travel insurance, around one in five are only offered cover that excludes claims arising from their condition and one in four faced inflated premiums.
“Research by Which? highlights the importance of speaking to a specialist broker or insurer when you have cancer or other medical condition,” says Sarah Page, brand manager for specialist insurer Insurancewith. “Not everyone’s situation is going to fit neatly into the tick boxes on a screen when applying for cover.”
Ms Page adds: “At Insurancewith we can offer one-to-one medical underwriting and policies tailored to your specific needs so the price more accurately reflects the risk. This usually makes it much more affordable, particularly for someone with cancer.”
The type of cancer you have, its stage, your treatment and your medication will all affect the premium, as will your age – with older consumers typically having to pay more, as statistically they are more likely to claim.
Your choice of destination and the duration of the trip will also have a bearing on the cost. This is because the cost of healthcare in different countries varies widely. In Spain, for example, tourists will often be directed to private clinics when they need medical attention – this can vastly inflate the cost of a claim, compared to state-funded healthcare. Healthcare in the US and Australia, for example, can also be expensive.
The delay to Brexit means holidaymakers to European Union countries can continue to use the European Health Insurance Card (known as EHIC) for now – although future arrangements are unclear. EHIC entitles you to emergency state healthcare in EU countries. But consumers should not rely on this as an alternative to travel insurance. The standards of care may be much lower than with the NHS. It also won’t cover the costs of repatriation.
The majority of insurers in the market use medical screening software called Healix, although a number use a different package called Protectif. The screening will ask questions about your condition and treatment to arrive at a ‘medical score’ before offering a premium cost for the travel insurance. As the two screening methods are slightly different it can be worthwhile getting quotes from a range of insurers that use different screening software.
Chris Rolland, chief executive at specialist insurer AllClear, says: “Declare everything. You will be asked to provide answers to set questions relating to each medical condition to ensure the insurer gets the information it needs to offer appropriate cover.”
Using a broker can be helpful as it will look across a broad spectrum of providers to find you the best cover and price for your needs. The British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) website at biba.org.uk can help you find one.
For most people with cancer and serious pre-existing conditions, and even those with a terminal diagnosis, it should be possible to find cover at a reasonable cost, although in some circumstances specific and tailored underwriting may be necessary.
Fi Munro, 33, from Errol, Perthshire, was diagnosed with stage-4b ovarian cancer in January 2016. She has since written a book How Long Have I Got?, set up an award-winning blog – Live Like You are Dying – and started her own businesses teaching yoga and meditation.
Fi says: “After the diagnosis I just wanted to live my life in the way I wanted and without barriers.
I love to travel, but looking around for insurance that would cover me and my cancer was so difficult.
“A medical professional recommended that I speak to Insurancewith,” she adds. “I just couldn’t believe the difference in its approach – and also the cost. It was so much cheaper than the mainstream brands that I’d previously been looking at.”
Fi takes out single-trip cover for each holiday. Cover for her and her husband, Ewan, for a two-week trip to France in April cost £85, for example. It is a stark contrast to the hundreds of pounds she could be charged with less specialist insurers.
According to experts, it is a good idea to take out joint cover with the same insurer, even where one person in a couple does not have any pre-existing medical conditions. The cost should not be any higher.
Mr Williams at Free Spirit says: “There could be complications if you need to cancel your trip due to illness, but your partner’s separate insurance won’t cover the cancellation.”
Insurer AllClear offers ‘Travelling companion’ cover for travellers who are insured with a different provider for cancellation or curtailment as a result of the pre-existing condition of their travelling companion under AllClear.
Think about purchasing travel insurance even for trips booked in the UK – because cancellation is among the main reasons for claiming on a policy for those with medical conditions.
How to keep premiums down
Shop around: Do your research and speak to different specialist insurers. A broker should be able to scour the market to find different policies to suit your needs at a reasonable price.
Opt for a larger excess: By agreeing to pay a higher excess – the first part of any insurance claim that you must pay – it may be possible to lower the premium.
Book holidays closer to the time of travel: If you can reduce the risk of cancellation due to ill health and can exclude cancellation cover from your insurance this should bring the premium down.
Consider changing destination and reduce length of trip: Insurance for travel to some countries will be much more expensive, so if you have not yet booked your trip talk to insurers and find out where might be cheapest. Shorter trips mean a lower risk of a claim and will bring insurance costs down.
Most insurers will ask about any treatment or prescribed medication you have taken within the last two years, or if you have been an in- or outpatient at a hospital, clinic or GP in the same time frame. It means if you had cancer three years ago, for example, but you can answer ‘no’ to these questions you will not need to declare the cancer and your premium should be much lower.
Cost was greater ‘but reasonable’
Many holidaymakers with pre-existing conditions decide to take a gamble and travel without insurance because they feel the premium cost is unaffordable. But this is a high-risk strategy.
John Carpenter was extremely glad he had taken out annual travel insurance when he was forced to cancel a cruise he had booked for his wife Linda’s birthday last year, after a lump appeared in his neck and he needed urgent chemotherapy.
John, in his early-60s, had been diagnosed with lymphoma in 2016. At that time doctors advised him to wait and see because his symptoms did not warrant immediate treatment. John and Linda, who love to travel, continued to take many holidays each year – although, due to his cancer, John now took out cover with specialist insurer AllClear, rather than buying cover through his travel agent as he always had done in the past.
“At £500 for annual worldwide cover my condition did mean a significant increase to the cost of cover,” says John. “But I felt it was reasonable considering the cruise I had planned and that it included the US, renowned for its high medical costs.”
The couple received a 25% refund on the cost of their £3,000 holiday from the cruise company and luckily, the terms of AllClear’s cover meant that they could reclaim the remainder on their insurance, minus the £250 excess.
“We were sent an email confirming our claim had been successful within two days,” says John, “and the payment was in my bank account within seven days of making the claim.”
John responded well to treatment and has stem cell therapy planned. He has been advised he is well enough to go on holiday before this treatment starts and AllClear has provided a new policy, taking into account his current medical situation. He has taken out a single trip policy for £200 for a seven-night break to Turkey.