/ Money

Why won’t insurers cover cancer patients?

Woman depressed sitting on luggage

Bought annual travel insurance? How would you feel if you developed cancer and your insurer either inflated your premium or cancelled your cover altogether?

Around 300,000 people develop cancer every year. But what’s even more depressing is that many will struggle to maintain their travel insurance, as most insurers will immediately impose an exclusion so the sufferer isn’t covered. That can’t be right.

You’ve just bought annual travel insurance to cover you for flight delays or lost baggage. What would you do if your insurer cancelled the policy or bumped up the premium you agreed to pay up simply because you developed a serious medical condition?

Covering the unexpected

I’ve come across so many cases of people who have suffered from this very problem. Think about it for a second; you book a holiday, get diagnosed with cancer sometime later, and your insurer presents you with a fait accompli.

It seems to go something like this: you’re told you have a serious condition, (how many things must be going through your mind at this point?) and somewhere on the list you compile is a call to your insurer. They pass you through to a medical screening call line. This asks you some set questions and then coldly informs you that you’re not covered for the condition you’ve developed.

That’s a bombshell. Surely insurance is there to cover the unexpected? And if ever there was a reason to take a break – and let’s be brutally honest, it could be your last – this is it. Yet the insurer pulls out all the stops to make your life worse.

Your insurer might offer you a cancellation, but that’s no good, because whoever you approach will take one look at what is now a pre-existing medical condition and charge near £2,000.

Assessing the risk

All this makes you ask – what’s the point of insurance? No one wants to pay it, but the reason we take it out is because it’s meant to offer protection if something emerges out of the blue.

So, when the rug’s pulled out from under you with a cancer diagnosis, you have to ask whether your insurer is being fair and reasonable. I don’t think they are. I think insurers are using onerous clauses in contracts to shirk their responsibilities.

Anyone who is diagnosed with a serious medical condition has one hell of a battle on their hands. Unfortunately, this pre-booked trip could be their last, but even if it isn’t, I can’t think of anyone who deserves a holiday more.

Insurers assess risk at the point of sale, it seems unfair that they can move the goal posts if circumstances change. Surely that’s wrong, don’t you think?

Sophie Gilbert says:
22 July 2011

We should campaign to change the law so that the only question the insurers should be allowed to ask is, was your illness diagnosed before or after your booked your holiday? If the answer is after, we are insured, and it shouldn’t be difficult on our part to produce/request documents from the hospital or whomever to prove it.

Peter Steele says:
22 July 2011

I agree with Sophie we should start a campaign to change the law. I was diagnosed with leukaemia 3 years ago. I had a multi trip policy which had not expired and the insurer honered the cover for our next holiday (I did not record the call or claim however so I have no evidence they would have honoured their promise) When I came to insure the following year it was very difficult basically just got cover for baggage. There are so many different forms of cancer there cannot be on blanket approach by insurers. ETA were good this year but it is a huge issue which is not being made transparent or easy by insurers. Get a campaign started.

22 July 2011

Yes this is another case of a rip off & discrimination by the insurance companies if the patient is unwell they would not travel any way.

Karen says:
22 July 2011

I have the same problem with high blood pressure. A lot of insurers hike up the premium and some will not even offer cover. I am stable on medication and have no health problems due to high BP. If I went around the plane with a blood pressure monitor I think I might find a large number of travellers who are not even aware they have high blood pressure and therefore present a higher risk of becoming unwell, yet because I am on medication to lower BP to normal – I am punished financially.

Colin says:
22 July 2011

It is about time insurance companies play fair. Like Karen, my wife has High blood pressure and the insurance is hiked up. Totally unfair being punished because we have bothered to keep ourselves medically checked out. Surey those who are not on tablets are a much higher risk than those that are on tablets. ALSO, there are various levels of high blood pressure, my wife being border line for taking tablets, is treated the same as someone who could be knocking on the door for having a heart attack, yet the computer has only one level!
Plus I had a very tiny amount of Prostate cancer 8 years ago, but I still asked for my prostate to be removed. Insurance companies just heard the words “prostate cancer” some would not cover at all (as if I was going to die that year) some said they would NOT cover me for prostate cancer or related illness. Fine I said as I do not have a prostate anymore, but they WOULD NOT tell me what the “related illness’s” were, or why they contradict my consultant who gave me the all clear as the cancer was very small.
ALSO, once an annual contract of insurance is entered into surely this is what it is, an insurance for all health issues for the whole year, What other company can change the fees or pull out halfway through a contract?
With so many possible reasons for insurance companies not to honour the contract, such as an illness 20 years ago you may have forgotten, would it be best to allow these companies to have access to medical records so they can accurately assess the real risk and give cover.
Sorry to rant on, but this just winds me up every year when policy renewal comes around.

BBSlowcoach says:
22 July 2011

Cancer for many is a medically controlled condition and is unlikely to cause an emergency of the kind that insurers usually associate as ‘risk’. Perhaps Which? could use its Super Complaint powers to have the Actuarial assessments that Insurance companies use to assess cancer as a risk, exposed to the public together with some facts and figures on claims experience that insurance companies have suffered to justify the astronomic premiums requested. That is of course if they will insure the ‘risk’ at all. Many will not.

bernard says:
23 July 2011

I booked insurance with Mondial when I booked flights with easy jet for Sept.coming.
Mondial allowed 14 days to cancel if we wanted to. After the fourteen days were up we both had diagnosis of conditions which obviously might effect the ins,tho not immediately life threatening.
I phoned the co. and was told “you would be covered for any claim made as a result of a condition diagnosed after the fourteen days were up”.
I emailed them for written confirmation of this and they would not confirm..Nor would they accept my request to cancel the agreement and issue a refund.

jonred says:
23 July 2011

Has this ever been challenged in the courts? To me, the behaviour of Insurance companies is clearly a breach of contract. They accept a risk for a given term, based on the known situation at the beginning of the term. They know, from the start, that the risk may become a reality within the term and, therefore, their evasion is illegal.
No doubt, somewhere in the small print, there is a statement which allows them to practice these evasions legally. If so then it is, undoubtably, an unfair practice and therefore a matter for the Office of Fair Trading, or at the very least a basis for a Which? super complaint.

And what about this nebulous ‘Act of God’. To the true believer, everything is an Act of God, including the onset of a serious health problem. To the unbeliever, there is no such thing as an Act of God. I suspect that most insurers are unbelievers. The use of the term ‘Act of God’ should be banned in the insurance world.

The insurance companies should be forced to comply with the fundamental definition of ‘providing insurance’, as ‘providing compensation against a genuinely unforeseen event’.