/ 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’.

CaL says:
23 July 2011

Agree with all comments made. This area requires in-depth further investigation. I am on medication for overactive bladder and anxiety and consequently, cost of insurance was doubled. Really fail to see how going to the WC less and being less anxious poses a risk when travelling/on holiday!

John says:
24 July 2011

Should someone not be able to do a check on how many claims are made regarding illness which has been covered with extra cost to see if this is just a way for insurance companies to increase there profits. I think that it would be found that little if no claims are made. The insurance companies should be made to honour the original contract as anyone does not know what lies ahead in the future regarding health or antthing else in life.

John says:
24 July 2011

The majority of cancerous conditions are not acute.Travel insurance companies should offer cover for up to 4 weeks without penalizing the traveler. Something needs to be done about this further and blatant example of profiteering. Cancer patients who feel ill do not wish to travel.

What is the present situation in the case of a patient who has had surgery for a malignancy, and has been given “the all clear” ?

Diane says:
26 July 2011

I agree with the comments made. The insurance companies should be accountable. They appear to be above the law and seem to be able to operate solely on their own terms. Whilst you (Which) concentrate on the diagnosis or treatment regarding cancer, the insurance policies extend this unfairness when someone dies of the disease abroad. My husband passed away unexpectedly whilst we were on holiday with undiagnosed bone marrow cancer Despite being fully covered and unable to leave the country concerned until various formalities had been atternded to, they refused to accept the cost of transport to enable me to see the British Consul for the death certificate or to view my husband’s body in the funeral chapel. My claims we also substantial reduced for hotel accommodation and meals without any explanation. I am sure you can imagine that fighting the insurance companies at such a time is not a priority. My son also suffers from their discriminatory practices as recovering from the disease he is forced to pay very high premiums for cover.

This scenario happened to me and my Grandma recently and resulted in her not traveling with us on a planned trip to the USA because a small cancerous mass was found on her Kidney- and though the doctors gave her the all clear, confirming that it was not growing or spreading, and she did not require any treatment for it – she could not get travel insurance.

We found one company who would insure her for the cancer- at a cost of over £1000 (for a 2 week holiday!) but they wouldn’t even cover her for her other ailments such as High Blood pressure and Diverticulitus- neither of which have caused her any problems in the past 10 years! We tried about 15 different companies and they all said no.

She is a very active 82 year old, but was so scared of the prospect of falling ill in the US without insurance that she decided to cancel her trip. And to make things worse it doesn’t look like the airline will refund the flights so she has lost out on £800, as well as what she considered to be her last chance to visit our family in Texas.

It put a realy downer on the trip for all of us.

Gill says:
26 July 2011

It does need looking at. I am in remission for breast cancer it has been 5 years now and I am still hit hard with extra insurance to pay when going on holidays. Their is no way that there is going to be a problem arising in the time I am away, unless you are terminal ill.

John says:
26 July 2011

Further to my previous comment, some days back, I have subsequently learnt from TV that approximately 40% of the population could develop a form of cancer at some stage. If this is incorrect, please correct me. Also that tall people are more likely to develop the disease than short people.The population as a whole is growing taller in each generation. The insurance companies have most probably noted this opportunity and hope to profit from it. Cancer patients do not usually travel for pleasure when they are ill, or at risk. they mainly travel when it is quiescent, hence very little risk to the insurers. If one could establish the facts, a case of cancer that has not as yet been diagnosed is most probably a higher risk than a diagnosed case. But this is too good a profit taking opportunity to be missed.

Sue says:
27 July 2011

I have had a similar problem with annual insurance for my husband who is diabetic. The insurance had the holiday had both been paid for and then his medication was changed so the insurance company told me he was not covered for that condition. We took out the insurance in good faith but now wounder what is the point!

It is the same for heart patients . I have been ripped off with the dental too by NHS not allowing IV sedation causing anaethetists to not take the risk . Not only here but abroad. Private Medical also rips off because you are not allowed to claim unless a GP on contract to ration may discriminate by not referring. As a consequence had cardiac arrest when evidence ignored so had never been referred to a cardiologist. Yet the Insurance continued to take monthly contributions whilst Financial Ombudsman knew this.

I am just starting my quest to obtain Travel insurance. My cancer is controlled by drugs but the first application I made to Co-operative medical travel insurance division was refused. Lost hope already looking at these comments.

bernard says:
21 September 2011

try “Staysure”. But how old are you? no guarantee of course but they might be worth trying.
I think they are Staysure for the over 50’s. good luck

Thanks very much for your help but I just went online to try them and it seems that its the same insurance underwriter as the co-op use. The questions were in the same format and the result was the same. ‘We cannot insure you’

My Consultant is happy for me to travel I take a new drug that is keeping my cancer ‘at bay’ and I have been stable for 20 months now.

Elizabeth Derham says:
21 November 2011

This is an ongoing “grouse” of mine and having read the update on Travel Insurance in Which this month, felt compelled to write. Both my husband and I are on medication for high blood pressure and statins, as a precaution, for cholestrol. We both have to pay excess on our Annual Travel Insurance, yet we are in a better state of health than a lot of people who have not seen a Doctor in years. Should we then stop taking prescribed medication and rely on our lower cost Insurance to cover us on holiday ? It seems to me we are penalised for having regular health checks. Maybe the question asked at medical screening should be “When did you last have a medical check” and the added cost be put on those who do not know the state of their health. It also suprises me that there is such a variation in the excess, from provider to provider. Surely the time has come for some sort of price regulation.