/ Money, Travel & Leisure

Has a medical condition affected your travel insurance?

Picture of dream holiday against stormy sky

There is nothing worse than going through the rigmarole of getting a quote, giving out all of your medical details, only to be told that the insurer is unable to provide you with cover for your condition.

What is even worse is if that provider doesn’t even bother to direct you to another insurer who would have been able to provide you with cover, leaving you high and dry.

Which? members have contacted us to tell us they have had trouble finding affordable cover for their condition, and some are unable to get any cover at all.

Cover for cancer patients

Among the main conditions they listed are heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol to name but a few. Just last week, Steve C told us:

‘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.’

A recent Which? travel insurance satisfaction survey found that 12% of members have been turned down for travel insurance because of a pre-existing medical condition and weren’t able to find cover.

A previous survey found that one in five people with a pre-existing medical condition had difficulty in obtaining travel insurance. Insurers also refused to insure 39% of people with a pre-existing medical condition and 66% of those that did receive quotes were offered a higher premium. Only 11% suggested using an alternative provider.

Finding alternative travel insurance cover

Under the terms of the signposting agreement introduced by the Government and insurers in April 2012, providers that are unable to provide a policy to older customers are obliged to direct them to an insurer who can offer them suitable cover.

So, if there is signposting on age, why is there no provision for pre-existing medical conditions?

Also, once you have found a quote for a policy that covers your condition, how competitive is that quote? Do you feel you’re better off going with one of the mainstream travel insurers on price alone or is it worth spending more on a specialist provider? If the latter, how do you feel the insurer adds value?

If your insurer won’t cover you with your pre-existing medical condition, should they be forced to signpost you to another?

Yes (80%, 481 Votes)

Don’t have a strong view (12%, 71 Votes)

No (8%, 51 Votes)

Total Voters: 603

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I was diagnosed with depression many years ago and until recently I never knew I had to declare it. Considering a fair percentage of the UK population suffer from anxiety or depressive disorders, I’m sure we’re used as a bit of a cash cow. In fact, some insurers won’t insure me at all despite being fit and well in all other aspects of my life. I’m sure a lot of sufferers are unaware and potentially not covered when they travel.

discodee says:
31 March 2015

I just discovered this. have suffered anxiety for yrs and didn’t know i had to declare it. Also have very mild asthma and didn’t relaise I had to declare that. However I found flexicover this year who added just £3 to the premium for both.
However I got the family policy for my husband 20 yr old daughter and 16 yr old son. son. my daughter suffers anxiety and has suffered depression. As a result the extra to her premium would have been £80!!! However I was allowed to exclude it from the policy and not pay anyextra. This means no claims relating to depression would be paid, but that won’t happen anyway, as you said.
The only flaw in this is, if you suffer say high blood pressure which you’d be so silly not to have covered AND depression, you can not have cover for one and not the other, thus bumping the policy sky high.
There should be a law that if you do not declare pre existing conditions you are just not covered for THOSE CONDITIONS ONLY and then you can declare just the ones you want cover for. It is a con to make you do all or nothing!

my mum who is 61 years old but 30 years old in her mind, has was diagnosed with severve copd, she was admitted into hospital in june 09 with an exberation of copd, she was hospitalized less than two months later and i must say alot lot worse, her sats dropped to 47 and me (her daughter) my brother and sister were called as things turned for the worse.she has to go home after a someone in the hospital recommended herbal clinic to us thankfully after three weeks and the shere determination of my mums will to live shes home, she was connected to oxygen 24hours a day, very tired,cant do things for herself. but shes alive!! this is a horrible condition for any human being to have to go thru but i can proudly say she is fully cure of COPD diease.

[Sorry WalidErika, your comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines. Please ensure that your comments do not contain promotional material. Thanks, mods]

barbara says:
12 February 2014

my husband has had several episodes of cellulitis in the past. The insurers WILL cover us but they EXCLUDE cover for any episode related to this condition. This is based on their written protocols, no communication from his doctor or specialist would make any difference

Jackie says:
9 September 2015

I have had severe cellulitis and the last episode I had was in March this year. Some friends of mine want to go to Majorca next year in May. I am wondering now if I will get any insurance cover at all after reading your post Barbara. I don’t want the cellulitis to prevent me from travelling anywhere.

Anne Armstrong says:
12 February 2014

I’m planning a trip to Canada in April but when I went to get ins had a shock that I couldn’t get any.I am over 70 but I consider myself fit and well.I had bowel cancer last year which was taken en masse so am clear so the hospital say,also I have asthma and emphysema which has been controlled for years and also controlled blood pressure.
I have two more firms to get in touch with and hope to find someone who will insure me.

I had angina that was resolved with a couple of stents a few years back. No problems since then health wise but declaration resulted in a refusal to cover with some and three fold increases in premiums elsewhere. Seems sometimes that it is any excuse to bump up the price

Margaret says:
15 February 2014

Try Aviva directly, we got single trip policy for us both at a fair price. We had this problem last year after my husband had a pacemaker fitted(3 stents and a heart attack many years ago as well) and after trying many sites including lots of the Which recommended sites we found that if we could get a quote at all it was nearly the cost of the holiday. Best of luck

A very true statement, so many different quotes for 202 days single trip from £1750, down to £525,
2 stemps 6 years ago but they ask if any medicines you take for condition, you have to answer yes as you are on Ramifil and aspirin possibly statins to maintain a low cholesterol level, rest of your life – the whhhhooosssshhhh up goes the price, and then have you consulted a doctor in the last year = well annual checkup on tablets and blood test, it is a rip off!

7 day family short break holiday to Lanzarote, Quoted insurance came to more than the cost of the holiday and flights. Ok so wife has Asthma, but even insurance for me (50, male, no problems at all) was a ridiculous price. We ended up travelling without insurance, just EEC blue medical cards and luckily had no problems and felt let down by a insurance industry that seems to want to only insure low risks and charge a high price to do it.

I have asthma, eczema and serious allergies, I found several companies that offer very reasonable insurance for me, below £10 for a UK trip and below £20 for a European trip. I have found that using a certain comparison website gave me the best offers.

discodee says:
31 March 2015

You can get cover from flexitravel and insure and go, and probably others too, if you ask,which will give you cover for everything but your pre existing conditions 🙂 At least you know everything else is covered then 🙂 I didn’t even think things I had needed to be declared as in the past it has just said “You must be fit and able to travel, and I am so I have! I didn’t realise anxiety came into it! My daughter has that and depression. I paid £56 for an annual policy including winter sports for her, her dad and brother. Middle level cover. To add on the PEMC would have been £80! £30 more than a policy for a year for 3 people!!! I have declared it but excluded it as it isn’t that it will bother her while away. My own annual policy incl winter sports was £31 with them but they wanted £45 to add cover for mild asthma and anxiety. £35 with flexicover and they only wanted £3 more. on’t need the anxiety covering but think it would be sensible cover the mild asthma, esp as we ski each yr so are in a cold country, and you cna’t have cover for one and not the other! So I paid the £38 nd have the cover. Still under £100 for the 4 of us AND I got 15% cashback through quidco for the flexicover one!

Phil Meade says:
12 February 2014

I paid my bank Santander for my current account £12 a month and in this package received annual worldwide travel insurance. I had to pay an extra £70 last year as I had bowel cancer in March 2010. Later that year they decided to cease all these packages added to accounts with effect from October 2013. I had to rearrange my insurance I am over 70, the old policy would cover me to 79, plus my medical details now looked like costing £500 + eventually I was directed by the Colostomy Association to companies that would cover me. I choose Staysure and the cost was reduced to about £300 for a 2 week holiday cruise in the Caribbean. Unfortunately this is an expensive area owing to its proximity to USA. Since then I have had to advise them of other medical bits which adds to the cost plus an admin charge.

This is one of those Conversations where it would be really useful to have somebody from the industry to explain how their products are priced. I have always assumed there is a competent risk analysis and claims experience rationale underpinning the writing of these policies, but now I am not so sure. By the time people reach a certain age they probably have some adverse medical history, yet it appears that, however inert or benign it may be, it jeopardises the purchase of cover. And once a non-standard premium has been applied by one insurer it has to be declared to any other, irrespective of whether any claim was made. Many people have the means as well as the desire to travel abroad well into their eighties, and there are many holidays available where they are probably looked after better than if they stayed at home. Cruises come to mind, but many other resort holidays offer perfect climate, comfort and relaxation that would actually be good for them and potentially improve their condition so that the insurance risk is lowered. Competition does seem to be working in theory but I believe the companies collectively are taking unfair advantage of people with medical conditions. I agree with Ian’s summary above.

Barbara says:
14 February 2014

A couple of years ago I was annoyed to discover that the insurance bundled with my bank account did not cover me for allergies (mild hay fever, mainly, no serious ones) AND charged me an extra £100 or so to insure me at all. A previous insurer had not charged extra. Any condition requiring regularly prescribed medication must be declared apparently, so the insurers can deny cover to anyone who does not declare a minor ailment but has repeat prescriptions.

A recent cancer diagnosis means I will have to look very hard to find insurance even though it was totally removed by surgery. I discovered that Macmillan have a leaflet called Getting Travel Insurance which is available as a PDF. This could be useful to anyone as the companies are used to dealing with people with so called uninsurable conditions. One company was started by someone who had cancer and been denied insurance.

Barbara H says:
14 February 2014

We travel regularly to the USA and have to pay huge amounts for insurance. Some companies won’t insure me, others won’t cover my husband, so it took the equivalent of 3.5 days to find a company that would cover us both. A joint policy is less costly than 2 separate ones. On one occasion it was cheaper to travel as 2 individuals on one policy than as a couple! I have also found that 3 weeks’ cover can cost more than an annual policy. How crazy is that? Within Europe don’t rely on the EHIC card as it only covers treatment on offer to nationals of the country you’re in, ie not repatriation costs. We currently hold a policy with Staysure and have previously used Age UK.

Angela Jackman says:
11 August 2014

I have had ‘bank bundle’ insurance for my husband & myself for years & never needed to claim. 10 yrs ago I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I notified the insurers – no change. 3 yrs ago still under 65 I had a heart attack & a stent fitted. Last year I had a second heart attack & the original stent was removed & replaced. Still have PD but no worse. I contacted the bank’s insurers but the company uinderwriting the cover had changed. They declined any cover for me or my husband & put the phone down. I tried Staysure because of their extensive advertising cover for pre-existing conditions. After a brief phone interview covering age & current conditions, treatments etc I was told within seconds that we had both been turned down for medical cover by all the companies they use, then charged a punitive amount for other insurance eg theft, baggage, transport etc. We are going to Greece this month – any ideas on medical cover? We have new EHIC cards.

Simon says:
9 March 2015

Hello, I am looking to travel to USA to visit a long lost friend who I have not seen in 30 years whilst I can still travel. I have heart failure, diabetes, sleep apnea and arthritis, insurance quotes are around £500, but I have found a way around this, the US Insurance market offers visitor medical insurance including all pre existing (no questions asked) for around $60.

kate says:
19 August 2015

I am a Canadian Snowbird…live in the USA for 5 months. No company will insure you in the USA unless you have a visitor’s permit or a green card. You said $60….did you ask the deductible? Probably 1000 dollars. That means you either pay $1000 deductible or $125 for a doctor’s visit. Do the math, this “company” will not lose a penny on you…in fact, if you are stupid enough to pay the deductible, then they have made money.

Janet says:
15 February 2014

We have given up going abroad because of the high cost of our travel insurance, which will not cover us for our pre-existing illnesses. 17 years after my treatment for breast cancer finished they will not cover me at all for cancer. I worry that if Scotland go independent, I will have the same problem with travel insurance for holidays there.

Pamela Hibbert says:
16 February 2014

We have found it increasingly difficult to get travel insurance because my husband had a heart attack 15 years ago. He is now 65. Staysure widely advertise their willingness to cover existing conditions and we bought a 12 month worldwide policy in May 2013 with a premium in excess of £300. In January 2014 we were due to fly to the Caribbean. In November 2013 he was diagnosed and treated for early bladder cancer.His consultant had no concerns about the travel plans. We informed Staysure of this event and were informed that they were not prepared to cover any problems arising from this new medical condition despite it having occurred mid policy.

On reading the small print in the policy document I discovered that it states that Staysure reserve the right to withdraw cover at an time.! Surely the point of any insurance policy is to cover the unforseeable and we pay hefty premiums because the insurer take the risk. Not is Staysure’s case.

Insurance companies that deliberately attract business from people with medical conditions must be carrying a much higher proportion of risk than other insurers. I have been wondering how that can be in policy-holders’ interest as it’s bound to lead to a tougher approach to risk acceptance and claims, and to higher than average premiums. Supposedly, insurance premiums are calculated on the basis of a realistic assessment of risks and the experience of claims. With other classes of insurance now increasingly competitive and with the industry moaning that margins have been whittled to the bone, it must be tempting to take advantage of the most docile group of customers available.

Barry Jones says:
19 February 2014

I agree with this service as i believe it benefits many people – Thanks

Diana says:
24 February 2014

I have suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for over 40 years, but am relatively fit. As a result of this I have mild bronchiectasis with few symptoms and also acid reflux. A couple of years ago I was diagnosed with takotsubo cardiomyopathy, a reversible heart condition brought on by stress. 9 months later when the heart condition had gone and I had been cleared by the hospital I needed travel insurance. It had been bad enough before, but the addition of a new condition, even though it was no longer present, was the last straw for the insurance company. These companies do not understand many of the medical conditions and any hint of something, even though it may provide little or less risk than someone ‘healthy’, makes premiums leap or excludes one from insurance. The companies who say they specialise in people with pre-existing medical conditions seem just as bad. They seem to specialise in certain conditions and don’t understand others. In the past I have been offered insurance that excluded rheumatoid arthritis. You can imagine what would happen if you had an accident. Nearly every bit of medical care would be considered to be a result of the arthritis! Travel insurance for people with pre-existing medical conditions is a con.

Getting cover that allows for less serious pre-existing conditions has not been a problem (Saga, Direct Travel). A major difficulty has arisen when you are in the middle of a series of tests with no final diagnosis or treatment. No cover is available under any conditions, insurers just do not want to get involved as the risk is unknown.

maureen barnes says:
22 April 2014

my brother tried to get insurance cover and he was quoted more cost than the holiday, he stayed home and gave the holiday to his son as his wife had pre booked,

From what I have seen from a recent cruise holiday a lot of people are over ambitious as to how healthy they are. They may be fine in their normal day to day mode but put them on a day trip to Petra and it is quite shocking how many were in serious physical distress from the high heat and the walking.

As it happened we had five ambulances to take of people at the next three ports. We also had a couple who spent the remainder of the cruise recovering in cabin.

Travelling by air is stressful , people are possibly going to over exert themselves, or try exotic foods and drink. Old illnesses may weaken peoples resilience to events. I think that the general public are perhaps too ready to avoid thinking of the downsides. How many thousand £500 travel policies would I have to sell to make a profit and to cover a claim for specialist heart care and medical plane repatriation from the southernmost town in South America.?

As a business model I reckon none of us readers would be interested in the slightest.

Eddie says:
18 May 2014

Like everyone else we have struggled to get reasonable travel insurance and have been refused by some. Our conditions include diabetes, copd, heart attack, angina and atrial fibrilation plus the statins, blood pressure medication and warfarin tablets which go hand in hand with the conditions.I was asked if I would take part in a worldwide medical research study called Reveal concerning good cholestoral. I said yes, that was it, I then became more or less uninsurable.The University of Oxford who are part of the study told me to try Able2travel. What a surprise, they not only insured us but allowed us an annual policy at a reasonable price. I agree it’s hard work and expensive but we would never go away without it.

When will Which? cover pre-existing psychological conditions in the travel insurance reviews. I am tired waiting for this review and expected it to be covered in the latest review after commenting on this failure. Are people with depression, stress, anxiety and more serious conditions travelling abroad without declaring their conditions? By not covering the mental health conditions in their travel insurance review, Which? is discriminating against those suffering with mental health problems.

Alex, when are you reviewing travel insurance for those with mental health conditions?

Stewart says:
25 July 2014

It must be considered discrimination against disability.
There is also discrimination against age.

Just as society funds healthcare for all Insurance companies must be forced to quote a flat rate for all regardless of medical conditions with absolutely no ability to refuse insurance on the basis of age or medical conditions bar the extremes of age or life threatening illness that would preclude travel.

High time similar principals were applied to vehicle insurance too.

Meantime the Insurers all compete to cherry pick the most profitable customers leaving the most vulnerable often priced out of the market. It is outrageous. Make them compete on customer service, features and the flat rate prices alone.

Discrimination against age, and disability?

By a flat rate I suspect you mean that everyone pays the same price for the same cover. Seems to me that would encourage the unfit to travel and the consequent large claims force up travel insurance for all – or all of those who will then bother to take-out travel insurance.

I am not sure that this plan will fly.

I agree with Dieseltaylor. Normally I’m very much in support of measures to help the disabled but what Stewart has suggested is simply not reasonable.

All insurance cover is risk-based and most companies lay-off their risks through re-insurers who also have to be satisfied. There can be no open-ended one-size-fits-all blanket provisions in such a system. It is the particularisation of risks and probabilities that keep insurance broadly affordable for the majority – it continues to amaze me that travel insurance is still fairly wide open territorially since it is usually broken down into just Europe or The World; the range of risks, medical fees and repatriation costs within either category must be immense but it is all averaged to produce a standard policy and premium. The last thing we want is insurance companies collapsing under the weight of medical expenses claims. I recognise that a consequence of this is that some people become unable to travel outside the UK or cannot afford the premium where special cover is available. In my opinion that is neither discriminatory nor inequitable.

Stewart says:
28 July 2014

I think it is perfectly reasonable.

If your health is parlous, as I suggested, they should not be obliged to cover you and it might be a matter for a GP’s reference letter, but otherwise insurance should be open to all with the healthy majority paying a little more for the rest.

We have Socialised healthcare and the same principals should apply to insurance.

For that matter it should also apply to Private Health Insurance and those companies should be obliged to offer flat rate policies with no discrimination by pre existing conditions. Even the Americans are trying to go this way!

It will also force the healthcare and travel insurers to start competing on transparent pricing, customer service and Ts&Cs

Unlike the national healthcare services and other life events for which we have a compulsory national insurance scheme, travel and holiday insurance is not a legal requirement and it is not available from a state provider. People are entitled to go without insurance cover and to travel at their own risk. Compelling insurance companies to take on unlimited risks would be unsustainable since the “flat rate policies” would end up with higher and higher premiums in order to choke off demand, and the companies with the lowest rates would be overloaded with bad risks.to the detriment of other customers who would progressively switch providers leaving the books seriously unbalanced.