Travel insurance and cancer
Finding a sensible travel insurance premium if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer can be stressful, time-consuming and outrageously expensive – even if you’re in remission.
But, don’t risk going without any cover at all. Here, we explain how more sophisticated medical screening can keep premiums low:
Do I need to tell my travel insurance company even if I'm in remission?
Yes, when you take out travel insurance, you must declare any health issues and answer questions honestly, or risk having all claims rejected.
All insurers need to know if you’re undergoing or expecting treatment, awaiting test results, or taking prescribed medication which includes maintenance chemotherapy and hormonal therapy such as Tamoxifen, which might be taken for 10 years.
Most insurers use trigger questions to determine whether you need to declare specific conditions.
If you can answer no to all of the trigger questions, you’re considered to be a ‘clean risk’ and can apply for cover as anyone else would.
If you answer yes to any of the trigger questions, you’ll be directed to medical screening.
How does medical screening for travel insurance work?
Many insurers use medical screening systems to generate a 'risk score' based on your answers to a series of programmed health questions.
Around 85% of the industry uses the same Verisk (formerly Healix) software – including leading price comparison sites and big-name insurers, such as Aviva, AXA and Direct Line – so you may find yourself answering the same set of questions when you shop around.
However, what an insurer does with your medical risk score is entirely down to them, so finding affordable travel cover can still be a minefield.
Automated medical screening has increased the number of insurers willing to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions. But it can sometimes make crude measurements.
For example, when Which? investigated this in 2016, we found that prices for a week in France jumped by £160 if someone declaring metastatic uterine cancer (cancer of the womb that has spread) said they saw their doctor four or five times in the past 12 months about their condition, instead of three times.
Protectif, a different medical screening system, potentially offers a more sophisticated approach – by asking more in-depth questions (starting with what medication you're taking) and providing the insurer with greater detail about your health and the associated risks.
If you're having trouble finding affordable cover, compare quotes from insurers that use Protectif screening to see if they can offer you a better deal.
See the table below for a list of brands and the medical screening software they use:
Very few insurers will cover terminal prognoses of less than six months, but some will let you exclude cover for that condition. Firms that say they can be more flexible include Free Spirit, Insurancewith, MIA Online, Treat-u-Fair and World First.
Aviva told us it doesn’t ask specific questions relating to a terminal prognosis, but cover will depend on the area and duration of travel, the stability of your condition and your doctor’s consent to travel.
Insurance industry to direct consumers to specialists
Cancer patients priced out of the travel insurance market have been promised more affordable premiums and clearer information, following a year-long investigation by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
Which? Money submitted more than 50 case studies of members who faced inflated premiums or had their cover cancelled, following our 2016 investigation into rip-off travel insurance for people with cancer.
The FCA’s report mirrored some of our own findings: people don’t know where to turn when a mainstream insurer refuses to offer them cover and it’s unclear whether quotes truly reflect the risk of travelling with pre-existing medical conditions.
A new signposting service is expected by spring 2019, to redirect consumers to the specialist market, which is more likely to insure serious medical conditions, including conditions with terminal diagnoses.
However, cancer charity Macmillan has raised concerns that the FCA hasn't addressed the problem of mainstream insurers using oversimplified medical screening:
'We are concerned that, despite these proposals, many will still be faced with limited choice and disproportionately high premiums.'
Seven tips for a cheaper travel insurance premium
1. Get a ballpark figure
Our Best Rate tables show the cheapest premiums for travellers with various pre-existing medical conditions. Alternatively, comparison sites and brokers such as All Clear, Just Travel Cover and Medical Travel Compared can be a useful starting point.
2. Try a different screening system
If the price is too high, or no one is willing to cover you, try an insurer that uses Protectif screening (see our table above). You’ll face detailed questions about your medication, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis, so it may be helpful to call your consultant before you get started.
3. Speak to a human
If you prefer to explain the stability of your condition to a person, MIA speaks to all customers over the phone instead of using computerised medical screening.
4. Single trip vs annual cover
Insurers can accept a higher level of risk on a single-trip policy compared to a multi-trip policy, because they know the exact destination and duration of risk.
5. Change your destination
Cover for the US, where all medical care is private, is notoriously pricey, but medical bills are also growing in Spain, Cyprus, Egypt, Malta, Portugal and Turkey, so avoid these destinations if you can’t find a good deal.
6. Go on a joint policy
If you’re travelling with a partner or friend, a joint policy will ensure that you’re both covered if you become unwell and have to cancel or curtail the trip. Many insurers offer couple discounts so it could be cheaper too.
7. Take your Ehic
The European Health Insurance Card isn’t an alternative to insurance – it won’t cover you for cancellation, stolen property, or medical repatriation – but it allows you to access state-provided healthcare in European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland at a reduced cost or free of charge. SwissAssist membership may be useful (swissassist.ch), as it pays for repatriation in a private ambulance jet.
What if I’m diagnosed with cancer after taking out cover?
Most insurers ask customers to declare any changes in health after a policy has been purchased, and they could refuse to pay out for any future claims if you don’t - even if the claim is unrelated to the change in health.
If you need to cancel your holiday, you should automatically be covered for cancellation of pre-booked trips.
If you’re well enough to travel, or you have an annual policy in place, most insurers will need to reassess you to establish whether they can offer:
- ongoing cover for the new condition, typically for an additional premium
- ongoing cover, but with the new condition excluded
- no cover at all (ask for a pro-rata refund if you haven’t made a claim on an annual policy and see if a specialist provider such as Free Spirit, Insurancewith, MIA Online, Treat-u-Fair or World First will cover you instead)