Make sure your medical travel cover is up to scratch

·7-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.

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.

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.

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