What Medical Conditions Affect Travel Insurance?


When it comes down to it, insurance of any kind is about covering unpredictable events. It’s about being able to financially mitigate the consequences of an unpleasant incident or event. Even if pain or inconvenience is caused, the inevitable costs can, at the very least, be covered by previous financial provisions put in place.
Having a pre-existing medical condition shouldn’t be something that deprives you of the pleasure of going on holiday or taking a business trip overseas. The experience can be positively invigorating and certainly improves your quality of life – at least temporarily. However, it changes your life-rhythm for a period, so the risk of any event happening which affects your medical condition needs to be mitigated. Taking out specialist travel insurance with medical conditions is the most sensible way of doing this.   
Travel insurance is obviously an important consideration when organising a lengthy trip, but it’s crucial not to fall into the trap of thinking that one travel insurance policy is the same as another.

Non-standard travel insurance

Non-standard travel insurance is used to describe a policy that is taken out to fit specific requirements, usually including cover for pre-existing medical conditions as well as terminal illnesses. If you’re over 65 or have a pre-existing medical condition, you’re likely to need a specialist policy – a standard policy is unlikely to give you the protection you need. Before deciding on a policy, confirm what’s included in a medical emergency – it should cover your treatment, plus accommodation and travel expenses for you and someone to stay with you and accompany you home.

What is a pre-existing medical condition?

It’s usually regarded as any medical condition where medical advice, diagnosis or treatment has been recommended. However, definitions of ‘pre-existing medical condition’ can vary between insurers. Therefore it’s really important to clarify what your insurer means when searching for travel insurance that includes cover for medical conditions.
Middle aged couple walking to airport with suitcase

What is a pre-existing medical condition in relation to travel insurance?

Pre-existing medical conditions are usually excluded from standard, off-the-shelf travel insurance policies so specialist cover is essential for travellers fitting this profile. Unsurprisingly, coverage may cost more, as you are obviously considered to be more at risk than people without pre-existing conditions.
Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that if you have certain medical issues, many insurers will not cover you for claims on those conditions or they would charge you such a high amount that cover is simply beyond your budget.
So, it’s wise to be totally upfront about your health situation when asking for quotes. If you have had advice or treatment for any of the following conditions, standard travel insurance may not cover you:

  • Heart and respiratory conditions including Heart disease Arrhythmia and Asthma
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Virus (AIDS)
  • Mental health conditions including Stress, Anxiety and Depression
  • Physical disabilities including; Paraplegic, Quadriplegic and Cerebral Palsy
  • Previous history of strokes, High blood pressure, Heart attacks and Angina
  • Muscle wasting diseases including Motor Neurone Disease
  • Progressive degenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases
  • Digestive conditions such as IBS, Crohn’s and/or Coeliac disease
  • Diabetes type 1 and 2 including complications from diabetes
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder and Emphysema
  • Cancer incl. Stage IV & terminal diagnosis
  • Haemophilia and other blood disorders
  • Hepatitis A, B, C, D, E and G
  • Liver and Kidney conditions
  • Leukaemia
  • Allergies
  • Epilepsy
  • Multiple Sclerosis

According to the Financial Ombudsman Service, an insurer can reasonably reject a claim that has nothing to do with a pre-existing condition if they can show that they would not have allowed the policy to be taken out in the first place had the condition been disclosed. However, that doesn’t mean that a traveller with an easy-to-manage (or at least, manageable) condition will be confronted with an unaffordably high quote for travel cover. Essentially, it is critically important to be totally transparent about pre-existing health conditions.
“When you buy cover you need to disclose all of the relevant details. Answer all questions asked by the insurance company honestly and to the best of your knowledge,” says Kelly Ostler-Coyle, spokeswoman at the Association of British Insurers.

The risks of not declaring medical conditions

Anyone is free to opt out completely from any travel insurance whatsoever. It’s not mandatory except when visiting certain countries, like Russia, Travel Market Report explains.  Once Britain leaves the European Union, several countries fall into this category unless a reciprocal agreement is reached with them.
Travel insurance has been made mandatory for visa application for Schengen countries since June 2004 in European law. Visa applicants should have a valid travel insurance policy at the time of their visa application. The minimum cover mentioned in the law is €30,000, or its US$ equivalent. If you use an EHIC to get medical care, some insurers won't ask you to pay the excess on your medical claims. While it's certainly worthwhile getting an EHIC, it may not provide enough protection on its own. All EHICs issued by the UK will still be valid until 31 October 2019. After that, all bets are off for the time being.
The danger is that falling ill or requiring significant medical treatment when abroad can cost an awful lot of money. For instance, The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office has a few horror stories, including a bill of £100,000 for an infection which afflicted a non-insured traveller whilst on holiday in America. Another is where an unfortunate fall in Spain ended up costing a holidaymaker £15,000, as they broke their hip, needed extended care and then required a flight back to the UK. Few of those who don’t take out travel insurance give any thought to doing a risk assessment on the potential costs were anything like the above to happen to them.
Not getting travel insurance is ultimately a false economy when you have a pre-existing condition. As we’ve seen, bills for treatment and medical care can run into tens of thousands of pounds, especially for those travelling to America. You also risk not being covered for any complications that arise during treatment linked to the pre-existing condition. A good example is diabetes. If you failed to disclose diabetes as a pre-existing condition and then lose consciousness and fall and injure your head, the insurer would be very unlikely to pay out and would be likely to deem the head injury a direct result of the undisclosed condition.
The connection between a certain condition and a claim may not always appear to be directly related.  For example, you break your leg while on holiday and have an undisclosed heart condition. As a consequence,  the treatment you need is far more complicated. In this case, an insurer could dispute the validity of your claim. So, the bottom line is that if you know you are ill before you travel, and you don’t declare this fact, then any medical problem that arises will not be covered. This is also why policyholders must tell insurers if anything changes between the date of purchase and date of departure.

Middle aged couple taking a holiday selfie together in front of scenic view filled with greenery

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

A holiday might literally be what the doctor ordered but your pre-existing medical condition can make finding good travel insurance difficult, not to mention more costly. According to data, one in 10 older (over 50 years old) UK holidaymakers travelled without insurance in the past two years, while a significant minority said that to cut costs, they hadn’t mentioned a medical condition.
Nevertheless, travellers who gloss over medical conditions to reduce their premiums are running the serious risk of not being covered if they find themselves in a situation where they are forced to make a claim related to their pre-existing condition.
Many people simply forget to tell their insurer about their pre-existing medical conditions, largely because the condition they were diagnosed with no longer affects them or has little impact on their daily life. However, if you fail to declare anything that falls outside the insurer’s Medical Declaration, it could void your policy or result in any potential medical or cancellation claim being rejected. Just to be on the safe side, you should always tell your insurer about your entire medical history along with whatever prescription medication you are currently taking.
From an insurer's point of view, you are a bigger risk. As the company will see it, having been ill you are more likely to need medical treatment while you are abroad.
Consequently, some travellers decide to forgo insurance or to hide their past from their insurer. Considering mature travellers as being over 50 years old, very many aren’t clear about which pre-existing conditions they need to declare when taking out travel insurance.
Around 25% were under the impression that they only needed to tell the insurer about any conditions for which they were currently receiving treatment. Fewer than 20% knew that they needed to declare medical conditions, injuries or symptoms that had resulted in any form of treatment or medication in the two years previous to getting a travel insurance policy. Fewer than 30% knew that the principle exception to the above is any form of cardiovascular or circulatory condition (such as blood clots) which need to be declared to an insurer regardless of how long ago they were diagnosed. So, knowing what medical information to share is not as simple as it might appear at first sight.
Insurers consider that a potential policy buyer must disclose any part of his or her medical history that he or she would be worried about not being able to claim for. This also applies, in the case of group insurance, to any fellow traveller who might also have an undisclosed medical condition.


Travel insurance for people with an undiagnosed condition

It’s impossible for insurers to assess the risk of undiagnosed medical conditions fairly and most typically decline to offer cover until a confirmed diagnosis has been received. This doesn’t mean to say you can’t get travel insurance but if you do manage to get coverage, it’s probably going to be on the basis that cover for the undiagnosed condition is excluded. This also applies to diagnosed conditions under investigation and where surgery is pending. What you want to avoid is horror stories like the one below.
Whilst on holiday, a woman was diagnosed with a kidney tumour and airlifted to Tenerife for surgery and two blood transfusions. While she was in intensive care, her travel insurance provider told her it would only fund a third of her care costs. She was liable for the remaining £30,500 because she had failed to declare a single prescription of sleeping tablets when she bought the policy. “It never occurred to me to mention occasional bouts of insomnia,” she said. “I am appalled to discover that insurance companies can refuse claims when a pre-existing medical condition bears absolutely no relation to the reason for the claim.”  


A note about cruises

These have been growing in popularity, especially for mature travellers who want to tick off a bucket list item. However, you shouldn’t expect to be automatically covered for specific issues specifically related to extended travel by sea unless you upgrade your policy.
Check any travel insurance policy you are considering for a cruise with a fine tooth comb to ensure you are covered if you need to cancel a cruise holiday, require medical treatment once on board or airlifting off the ship.
Travellers face a minefield when choosing insurance and some unfortunate souls may find that the small print of their policies may leave them unprotected. The range of travel insurance options is immense, so what you need is good advice, so you can see the wood for the trees. Here at Insurance Choice, we are specialists in providing travel insurance with medical conditions so visit us today for more information on how we can help protect you.