Make sure your medical travel cover is up to scratch

·11-min read

It’s not the most exciting element of a holiday, but travel insurance is essential for any trip.

A comprehensive policy offers a valuable financial safety net against a number of potential disasters, such as unexpected cancellations in the run-up to a getaway, to lost luggage while you’re away.

A crucial part of any policy will also be the medical cover that it offers, so you’re not left with eye-watering medical bills while overseas.

Here, we detail how to find the best medical cover for you when taking out travel insurance, as well as what to think about when comparing your options.

Why do I need travel insurance with medical cover?

Emergency medical treatment while you’re abroad can be extremely expensive. The Association of British Insurers gives the example of a traveller’s bill in 2020 for one month’s private medical treatment in Spain following a fall and emergency medical repatriation to the UK costing £124,000.

In its advice on foreign travel insurance, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) gives a potential cost of £100,000 for a stomach bug or infection treated in a hospital in the USA with return flights.

So, to prevent being landed with costs like these, it’s important to get your medical cover right when taking out a policy.

Medical cover – the essentials

If you have a medical emergency abroad, the last thing you’ll want is worry over how you’ll pay for treatment. To ensure you’re adequately protected, the consumer group Which? recommends looking for policies with medical cover of a minimum of £2 million for European travel and £5 million worldwide.

When taking out a worldwide policy, you will usually have two options: those that cover travel to the United States, Canada and the Caribbean and those that exclude travel to destinations including the US, Canada and the Caribbean. Exclusions can vary between insurance providers, so always check that the destination you are travelling to is actually covered by your policy.

Medical treatment in the US and some other destinations can be extremely high, so a policy including travel to those locations will usually cost more to reflect this risk.

You should look for a policy that covers:

  • The cost of emergency medical treatment while you’re away. Check also whether your policy covers treatment in both public and private hospitals.

  • Emergency repatriation – if you need to get back to the UK for medical reasons.

You may also want to look for cover for temporary emergency dental treatment, costs for getting home if medical treatment makes you miss your original flight, repatriation in the event of death abroad, and reasonable costs for a family member or friend to travel out while you’re being treated.

In addition, make sure that your insurer has a 24-hour helpline for emergencies.

Do I need to tell my insurer about pre-existing medical conditions?

When you are taking out a new travel insurance policy, you’ll have to answer medical screening questions. Make sure you answer these honestly, because a claim may be turned down if you’re found to have withheld medical details.

If your health changes before you travel, you should also tell your insurer.

What is classed as a pre-existing medical condition varies between insurers so always answer questions fully.

As an example, the provider Staysure says “a pre-existing medical condition is a condition that you have had symptoms, surgery, investigations or medical appointments for in the past two years”.

Another insurer, LV=, talks about pre-existing medical conditions in the last five years of your life, such as:

  • heart condition

  • breathing condition such as asthma

  • circulatory condition (such as strokes or high blood pressure)

  • gastrointestinal or digestive tract problem

  • bone or joint condition

  • any form of cancer.

It also refers to any medical investigations, tests, treatment, surgery or prescribed medication for conditions or symptoms that relate to a diagnosed condition.

With some travel insurance companies, Covid-19 may be classed as a pre-existing condition too so always check.

Once you’ve declared a pre-existing condition, some policies will exclude cover for your medical condition while others may charge extra to cover it. Make sure you know what is covered and are comfortable with this.

If you are struggling to find insurance due to a serious medical condition, prices are high, or if your condition has been excluded, the Money Advice Service has a specialist directory that may help.

Can I take out standard medical insurance if I have a pre-existing medical condition?

If you’ve declared a pre-existing medical condition it’s unlikely, should the need arise, that standard medical insurance would be able to provide you with a suitable level of cover. You may need to buy travel cover from a specialist insurer happy to accommodate your condition as part of a policy.

Is pregnancy a pre-existing medical condition?

Travel insurers do not regard pregnancy as a pre-existing medical condition. This means you do not need to inform your insurer that you are pregnant when you take out your policy.

Make sure your travel insurance policy covers pregnancy-related emergencies, not linked to pre-existing conditions. Note that it’s unlikely you’d be able to claim for routine pregnancy procedures and delivery should this happen abroad.

If you’re more than 37 weeks pregnant, bear in mind that most airlines will not permit you to travel (32 weeks if you’re expecting twins).

Can I get medical cover if I have a terminal illness?

Travel insurers class terminal illnesses as pre-existing medical conditions. It may still be possible to arrange cover in this situation, but check with your insurer.

Should I take out separate pre-existing medical conditions cover when travelling in a group?

It depends. Group policies are based on the most high-risk member of a party and cover for a pre-existing medical condition can bump up the cost of a policy. From both a value for money or comprehensive cover perspective, it may pay to take out separate cover.

What to remember when travelling with a pre-existing medical condition?

If you have a pre-existing medical condition you’ll want to ensure that you travel with enough medication to last you the duration of your holiday.

Don’t forget to take any medical equipment, prescriptions and medical paperwork that you may need.

Check where the nearest medical facilities are to where you’ll be staying, including the nearest pharmacy, clinic and hospital. Jot down addresses of institutions that may be able to offer assistance in the destination you’re heading to such as the local British Embassy.

What if I develop a condition after I buy my medical cover?

Let your insurer know if you develop a medical condition as soon as possible, to give it a chance to adjust your policy. This may be for an additional cost, but it will ensure that you are adequately protected while away.

Should I take out medical cover while waiting for a diagnosis?

It’s best to buy your medical cover after you have received your diagnosis. Your insurer will use this information to provide you with the right level of cover.

Will travel insurance cover medical treatment for Covid-19?

Many travel insurance policies now offer some level of cover around emergencies and disruption due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, levels of cover and what is covered varies between companies, so read conditions around this carefully before committing to a policy.

Analysis by the financial ratings firm Defaqto from February this year found that almost all (96%) of insurance products on the market covered medical expenses if you catch Covid-19 on holiday, however only 72% would cover cancellation costs if you test positive for Covid-19 before you travel.

Other things to think about when looking at cover specifically regarding the coronavirus pandemic are whether you’d be covered for:

  • Cancellation if you were told to isolate ahead of a trip.

  • Curtailment if you were denied boarding due to Covid-19 symptoms or extra expenses if this was on your return journey.

While a change in travel advice from the FCDO or a local or national lockdown may disrupt a trip, you are unlikely to find cover for this through travel insurance as it’s a known risk at the moment. To protect your money against this, either look for flexible booking policies or book a package holiday which should be cancelled in the event of a change of FCDO advice.

What’s typically excluded from medical cover?

Bear in mind that travel insurers can refuse to pay out on a claim you’ve made if it turns out you were drunk or incapable at the time of the incident. Some insurers’ policies stipulate a level of intoxication beyond which they will refuse to pay out on a claim.

Similarly, they can refuse to pay out if you had unprescribed drugs in your system, or were involved in a fight where you were not acting out of self-defence.

Do I still need travel insurance for Europe if I have a GHIC?

Global Health Insurance Cards (GHICs) have replaced European Health Insurance Cards (EHICs) following Brexit. If you have an existing EHIC, it will be valid until its expiry date, though.

A GHIC gives you access to state healthcare in Europe at a reduced cost and sometimes for free.

However, while a GHIC is an important item to take on a European trip and some insurers may request that you have one for a policy to be valid, it is not a replacement for travel insurance. It may not cover all health costs and will not cover repatriation costs or mountain rescue in ski resorts. It also won’t protect you against other items that a comprehensive travel insurance policy will, such as lost possessions.

What else should a travel insurance policy cover?

While medical cover is a vital part of a comprehensive travel insurance policy, you should also look for cover for:

● Cancellation and curtailment – always take a policy out as soon as you book travel so you are covered for unexpected events that may cause you to cancel in the run-up to a trip. This should cover the value of your trip or more.

● Baggage and personal possessions – if your belongings are lost, stolen or destroyed, your insurance will cover the cost of replacing them.

● Personal liability – travel insurance could pay out if you accidentally injure someone or damage their property.

If you’ve not booked an ATOL-protected package holiday, you may also want to look for a policy that includes end supplier failure. This offers financial protection should a travel company you book with cease trading. Alternatively, scheduled airline failure offers the same protection for airlines only.

Think carefully about any activities you will be taking part in on a trip, too – from winter sports to quad-biking – and make sure these are covered by your policy.

How can I find the best medical travel insurance?

To find the best travel insurance for you at a competitive price, it’s important to shop around and compare a number of policies side-by-side. To ensure you’re adequately protected, always be honest about any pre-existing conditions and pay attention to financial limits around claims.

Pay attention as well to any excess amounts and think carefully about agreeing to a high excess amount to keep the cost of a policy down as this could prove to be a false economy if you need to claim.

How do I make a medical claim on my travel insurance?

Your insurer will expect to be informed as early as possible about any claims. Doing so will give your insurer more time to pay your medical bill directly for you. Otherwise, you will have to pay for your treatment first and your insurer will reimburse you.

Make sure you have policy documents and reference numbers to hand. If you are hospitalised, ask a member of your party to inform your insurer for you. Where extensive treatment/surgery is concerned, insurers may want to speak to you first.

If you are a victim of a crime, you will also need to contact the authorities to report the incident and get a reference number. It is best to do this within 24 hours of the crime taking place or your insurer could refuse your claim.

Collect and send all your paperwork and evidence such as photos and receipts that could help with processing your claim to your insurer. However, remember to keep copies for your personal records, as well as a record of any correspondence with your insurer.

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