/ 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?

John Marshall says:
1 December 2011

Is it not the time for the government or the NHS to run an insurance scheme or subsidise payments for people who take part in government, NHS screening programs to detect early signs of cancers etc, afterall if people did not participate in screening they would not find out that there was a problem because in most cases there are no signs of ant problem until screening takes place.
This is someone speaking from experience as I did not have any signs of a problem until I took part in bowel screening program after booking my holiday only to find out that I needed surgery to remove a part of my bowel due to cancer.

John says:
1 December 2011

I can identify with John Marshall. I had knee replacement surgery performed on my right knee. The post op anticoagulant uncovered a silent malignant tumour in my lower bowel. I had it removed. I then had concomitant radio and chemo therapy,and as I am now taking a long course of chemotherapy in tablet form at home , to reduce the risk of a recurrence, my travel insurers are proving difficult. Cancer is not like a heart attack, it does not strike out of the blue. There is no reason not to cover cancer in the policy. It is a policy that is attached to a bank account, free until 70 and then a premium. This amounts to over £170 for the two of us and excludes anything related to cancer. What risk am I incurring going away for a mere two weeks ?

John says:
18 June 2012

Just over 12 months ago I had surgery to remove a malignant tumour from my bowel. I then underwent Radio and Chemotherapy for many months. I have subsequently had a post treatment MRI and CT Scan. Both have reported that there is no longer any evidence of recurrent or residual disease. I am now cancer free. Despite this my travel Insurer will not reinstate my travel insurance in full. They have informed me that they will only review my situation on the anniversary of my policy in November. Review dos not necessarily imply that it will be in full.

I feel that this is grossly unfair. Being cancer free I should now be treated in the same manner as any other person insured. In fact I am a better risk as I will be closely observed by my surgeon for at least five years, which makes me a better risk than some one with underlying cancer who has not been diagnosed.

This is discrimination. It is time that the government intervened.

This is a followup to my published comment above on 1 December 2011.

Steve C says:
7 February 2014


My annual, worldwide travel insurance expires in March; last April I was diagnosed with bile duct cancer which requires on-going, palliative treatment. I’m planning my honeymoon for May. I doubt whether they will renew the policy once I tell them of my condition and interestingly nobody in the comments on this site suggested not telling the insurance company; back pats all round for honesty!

There is good travel insurance information on Macmillan’s site at http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Cancerinformation/Livingwithandaftercancer/Practicalissues/Travel/Companies.aspx

After research I plan to get a new policy for my partner and all bookings, baggage, travel money etcetera will be in her name. I will travel without insurance although with a credit card with a large limit so I can buy the earliest flight back to the UK. For Europe, close to the UK with EHIC that is OK; for developing countries paying for health care is cheap the problem is the USA where I will need to asses the insurance cost.

I assume you propose to travel independently and I think your plans seem sensible.However, you might find it difficult to buy package holidays or inclusive travel arrangements as many operators will not carry uninsured travellers for fear of a repatriation or medical expenses liabiity falling on themselves.

Colin Chaston says:
7 February 2014

WHY is there no agency taking on these Travel Insurance companies? I was diagnosed with prostate cancer from a PSA blood test 10 years ago. ONE from eight biopsy test proved positive, very small cancer and I had my prostate removed. When I went to renew my Travel insurance companies were saying “we will not cover you for prostate cancer, or related illness”!!! I reminded them I did not have a prostate anymore, what is a related illness, and why are they telling me I was high risk when my doctor told me I was clear? Unfortunately the computer could not answer these questions!!
Now my wife was been diagnosed with breast cancer 2013 and her surgery removed the tumor and lymph node. She has been told it was all removed and had not spread. She is now going through chemo and then radiotherapy to make doubly sure it should not come back. OK, it resulted in 3 holidays being cancelled (deposits only) and insurance company has paid out as diagnosis was after we took out insurance. WHAT will they do at renewal? All the comments above give a strong indication.
What is really annoying, my wife and I have health checks, and are now on cholesterol tablets and my wide on blood pressure tablets. SURELY we are LOW risk compared to anyone overweight, or not having health checks. We are being monitored every year and taking tablets to control the condition, BUT we have to pay an extra premium as if we could drop dead within months!
Does anyone know of anyone that died of cancer related illness when they were on holiday??
With insurance companies using any excuse to increase premiums, or not covering an illness that will not kill you on holiday, or should not need a hospital visit, is immoral! There is a higher chance of falling and breaking a bone than needing treatment for cancer when on holiday.
I would be happy for any insurance company to have access to my medical records, or my Doctor, if it means they can be more realistic when refusing cover or suggesting it was not a disclosed illness.
Surely someone in government can take on the travel insurance business. We ARE NOT a risk once diagnosed with a cancer illness. We ARE a risk before being diagnosed with ANY illness!
That’s it, off my soap box!!