/ Travel & Leisure

Unexpected diagnosis shouldn’t affect existing travel insurance

Insurance and risk on sign post

Is it right that travel insurers can change your policy after you’ve bought it, such as withdrawing medical cover if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer? Isn’t the point of travel cover to cater for the unexpected?

Got annual travel insurance? Me too. I don’t rely on the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), because that will only help you get immediate medical treatment at the point of an accident. This is unlike travel insurance, which will pay for ongoing treatment and repatriation, if required. At least, that’s the plan.

In practice it’s a different matter altogether. Sure, the chances are that if your luggage turns up in Timbuktu instead of hitting the carousel at Sydney, you’ll get compensation.

But what happens if you are diagnosed with cancer between buying insurance and taking your pre-booked cruise to Bermuda?

Cover, what cover?

In this case you’d think you would be covered. And you’d be right in many cases. This is because insurers cannot discriminate against people with a long-term degenerative illness – thanks to the Equality Act 2010.

Yet, they can impose unfair terms and conditions, such as a clause that states they reserve the right to change policies once they’re running. Many insurers do just this to get around covering you for a terminal illness. This simply isn’t right and is an abuse of the current law.

It all stems from the Marine Insurance Act 1906. Yes, 1906. The Act was introduced to enable Edwardian City types to liaise on business deals. It required total disclosure of any relevant information for a deal to be valid.

A century on, decent people are telling their insurer that they’ve just been diagnosed with a serious condition and the insurance buckles.

Kick you when you’re down

You see, if you are diagnosed with cancer after taking out your annual insurance policy, but before your next holiday, your insurer could use the 1906 Act to change the terms of your policy and remove cover.

I mean, seriously, you abide by the rules by disclosing your recent diagnosis and they pull the rug from under you. I take out insurance specifically to cover the unexpected. Yet it seems like too many providers are using this interpretation of the law as a ‘get out of jail free’ card.

Around 300,000 people are diagnosed with cancer every year. Some will need a holiday more than the rest of us because of this. Others will have more practical reasons to travel. This could turn out to be their last chance to see relatives, or sort out their affairs. They have paid for annual insurance, the unexpected has happened, they are in dire straits and they’re told they’re not covered. I think this is wrong. What do you think?


Exactly this happened to me with a Golfguard Insurance annual travel insurance policy — only it was not cancer I was diagnosed with in the middle of the year’s cover but diverticulitis. On contacting Goldguard and their medical helpline, I am told that this condition is excluded from the policy and that also they would not accept an extra fee to cover this condition. Consequently, if I had gone on holiday and I developed problems related to diverticulitis that required medical assistance, I would not be covered by the policy. Yet diverticulitis is not a major illness.

Golfguard do not give refunds on the remaining period of the policy (5 months) so I was left out of pocket as I had to find another insurer for insurance cover and pay yet another fee (single trip this time!).
Other insurance companies such as Saga do give refunds when unable to cover certain medical conditions that develop within the period covered by the annual policy. Depending on what the condition is, Saga has assured me that customers are often able to pay an extra fee to cover just this kind of circumstance.

MA says:
22 July 2011

Try Age Uk travel insurance. They seem pretty good to me! Don’t know if there is a lower age limit though. Hope this helps.

Doug Pye says:
12 May 2011

Just encountered a variation of this with an AXA policy. In many respects it seemed an excellent policy, with an maximum age of 80 and cover without question for a long list of existing medical conditions. However, when telling them of ongoing investigations for a condition not on their list (not one we thought particularly serious) we were told that cover was immediately withdrawn for all medical conditions, not just the one being investigated. Some rapid enquiries with other companies suggested that this is not uncommon. It would be interesting to know if others have had the same experience.

Mrs s dance says:
6 July 2016

I have had same with AXA lv been with them pay through bank monthly and lm having investigation at hospital for breathing and AXA told me they would t insure me and we go away next week with no cover

C. JOHNSON says:
21 August 2011

What, if anything, is Which? doing about this? (See September 2011 issue, page 10.) I have been obliged to pay extra premuims after declaring new conditions after taking out insurance. The conditions were not serious, like cancer.

barbara says:
9 October 2011

My husband has terminal cancer but our problem is that our daughter who is 36 wants to go on holiday and thought it necessary to advise the insurance company of her father’s condition – now she is getting conflicting information about whether the insurance company needs to know. One company would not insure her. Another said as it wasn’t her it didn’t matter. A group of advisors in the travel agency looked at the policy and said that she wouldn’t be covered for repatriation should anything happen to her father whilst she is away. She’s paid for the holiday and now can’t find out whether the insurance company’s cover will be sufficient.

P B Halford says:
26 March 2012

I have had an annual travel insurance policy as part of my home & buildings policy for at least the past 12 years. Unfortnately my brother in law passed away after a long illness recently and we needed to cancel a holiday with friends as the funeral was being held during the week of our holiday. Having cancelled our trip we contacted the insurance company, who advised that as the brother in law had passed away and had been a cancer suffer that we should have advised the insurance company of this fact and that the the claim may not be allowed under the conditions of the policy. This was not mentioned in the policy document that we have on file, but it was alluded to on the on-line version. We have since received a letter asking for a medical certificate to be completed with questions that have no relevance to the circumstances involved with the death. This is required to be completed by the GP, who had not been involved in the treatment for some considerable time because he had been hospitalised for the previous 10 weeks. Obviously holiday insurance is not of paramount importance when visiting people who are sick in hospital. My wife & I are very upset with the attitude of the Insurance Company. I would be interested to find out if other readers had been treated like this during a time of great sadness.

You don’t even have to have a new cancer diagnosis. My sister and I are having this argument with SAGA right now on a cancer she had 9 years ago – yes 9 years ago. She had her thyroid gland removed and radiotherapy treatment so the risk of a further cancer is pretty well zero but they have changed their rules and now won’t offer insurance unless you are 10 years after your cancer. We are mid term in our policy and trying to get cover for a holiday in Egypt which our European policy won’t cover. The underwriters seem to link it to taking thyroxine but do not discriminate against people who take thyroxine for other reasons. Its about time the law on this was changed.

I am having big problems with Saga Travel insurance.I bought a travel policy from Saga 23/06/2014 to travel to USA due to a change in my medical conditions i had no alternative but to cancel my policy.Saga Services will not refund my money paid for this policy £445.99 as they state as i have cancelled my policy mid term i am not entitled to any refund.They tell me i have cover from 23/06/2014 to 11/03/2015 but as i only required cover from my holiday dates 02/03/2015 to 11/03/2015 i did not ask for cover from the day i payed for the policy,i only required cover from the day i leave the uk 02/03/2015 to the day i return to the uk 11/03/2014.I am at present in dispute with Saga,my advice to anyone is DO NOT BUY TRAVEL INSURANCE FROM SAGA THEY RIP YOU OFF.

June Coad says:
27 May 2013

A few years ago we had travel insurance with our Bank we had it for many year, i never once claimed on the insurance though i had been ill in the hotel and just stayed in bed in our room. I have Bronchectisis of the lungs, on returning home one year 4 years ago we had a letter stating they would no longer insure me as i was to high a risk, not even if we paid extra fee’s, they had changed there broker to Axa. does anyone else have this problem can you recommend any insurance that would cover me.

M. Allinson says:
3 June 2013

I also have bronchiectases and rheumatoid arthritis and l found travel insurance through age uk which covered this. The cost is not too bad for Europe, worldwide is more. I also found that an annual policy is not much more than a single trip. Hope this is helpful to you.

Dave says:
24 July 2014

Similar problem with AXA backed travel through my bank account ..paid for a bank account including travel insurance but as soon as I was diagnosed with low grade prostate cancer they hit me with a £300 a year excess so I politely advise them to shove it and have now found a specialist insurance company who actually cover cancer patients at a reasonable premium.

I took out a travel insurance policy with Saga 23/06/2014 to travel to the USA from 02/03/2015 since i arranged my policy i have been diagnosed with Angle Glaecoma, i duly informed Saga about my ongoing treatment at my local hospital & as my appointment has landed on the day of travel 02/03/2014 & i have no choice to cancel my appointment due to a possible wait for next appointment to be a wait of 3 months & as i am a 76 year old gentleman my health has to take priority.
As i had not had any benefit from purchase date of this policy,i feel i was entitled to a full refund less a minimul set up fee,i await an investigation by them & no guarantee of a positive result.
I have since discovered they are not a member of ABTA.

Kim says:
28 June 2015

I have just been diagnosed with intermittent claudication, but took out Worldwide + America holiday insurance 4 months ago. WillI have to pay extra when I tell them?