Can I get travel insurance if I've had 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.
When we surveyed 10,495 Which? members about buying travel insurance in November 2018, we found that 64% have declared a pre-existing medical condition when doing so.
A quarter of these said they’ve faced inflated premiums, and a fifth could only find policies that excluded all claims related to their condition (more on this in our news story).
Those being priced out of the travel insurance market have been promised more affordable premiums, thanks to a new signposting service expected in spring 2019, following a year-long investigation by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
This will redirect consumers to the specialist market, which is more likely to insure serious medical conditions.
However, cancer charities are concerned that this won't address the problem of mainstream insurers using oversimplified medical screening, leaving many continuing to face disproportionately high premiums.
Here, we explain how alternative medical screening could help you find a cheaper policy.
Do I need to tell my travel insurer 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.
Most insurers use trigger questions to determine whether you need to declare specific conditions. Check the wording of these questions very carefully.
- 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.
Lots of firms will want to screen you if you have ever been diagnosed with or treated for cancerous, psychological, respiratory, heart or circulatory conditions.
Others, such as Aviva, Axa and Columbus Direct, ask you to declare if you have received advice, medication or treatment for a serious, chronic or recurring disease, illness or injury in the past 12 months. Many more will require these details from the past five years.
It’s helpful to speak to your consultant before you get started and to have to hand the dates of any medical tests or treatment (this will include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and immunotherapy for cancer patients).
What other health conditions do I need to declare?
All insurers need to know if you’re undergoing or expecting treatment or awaiting test results.
In some cases, they will provide a list of conditions that do not need to be declared. But generally, you will need to tell them about any condition you've been diagnosed with or treated for within the time frame stated - including those you consider to be well managed or no longer a problem.
If you take prescription drugs, including strong painkillers (such as tramadol, buprenorphine, methadone, diamorphine, fentanyl, morphine, oxycodone, and pethidine) this will need to be declared.
The same goes for vitamins if they’re prescribed for a medical condition though don’t worry about over-the-counter vitamins for general wellbeing.
From there, the screening system will determine whether you are offered cover, and at what price, based on questions about your initial diagnosis, recent treatment and current state of health.
You won't always be charged extra if you are asked to go through medical screening - the insurer may ask you only a few questions and then offer a policy at a standard price.
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 Zurich - 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.
What should I do if my travel insurance quote is too high?
Automated medical screening has increased the number of insurers willing to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions. And Verisk can work very well for cancer patients, particularly if their last treatment was several years ago and there is no further treatment planned.
But it can sometimes make seemingly crude measurements, particularly where you are unable to give definitive answers.
For example, when we gathered quotes for travellers declaring cancer in February 2019, insurers usually asked whether any future treatment was planned.
Switching from 'no' to 'I am currently being monitored to see if I need treatment in the future' meant the cheapest comparison site quote for a 58-year-old woman with a history of kidney cancer jumped by 164%.
Alternative medical screening systems such as Protectif, Tamis and one-to-one individual screening may be more suitable for some.
These options can feel more intrusive, as you will typically be asked to go into greater detail about your diagnosis, treatment and prognosis (Protectif starts by asking about any medication you're taking).
The upside, however, is that the insurers have a much deeper understanding of the state of your health, and should price accordingly.
See the table below for a list of leading travel insurance brands and the medical screening software they use.
Compare travel insurers for cancer
This table shows the medical screening system used by leading insurance brands, along with upper age limits for their single and multi-trip policies.
We also note where brands say they specialise in cover for pre-existing medical conditions and where policies include a change in health disclosure clause:
Do travel insurers cover terminal cancer?
Although most insurers have a general exclusion for terminal illness, InsureCancer said it routinely offers cover to those with a terminal prognosis, with no exclusions.
Other firms that say they can be more flexible include: AA, All Clear, Clear2Go by MIA, Co-op Insurance, Cover Cloud, Esure, Free Spirit, Goodtogo, InsureandGo, Insurefor, OK To Travel, Travel Insurance Saver, Travelinsurance4medical, Virgin Money and World First.
Cover will depend on the area and duration of travel, the stability of your condition and your doctor’s consent to travel.
Some firms specifically state that you will only be offered a policy if your prognosis is not less than six months from the return date of travel.
Most policies include an ‘ongoing duty of disclosure’ clause which means the insurer wants to be informed of any changes to your health. This means they may rescreen you, and could potentially change the terms of cover, increase the premium or even cancel the policy altogether.
The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) has previously said these terms may not always be fair and reasonable, particularly if they were not highlighted clearly when the policy was sold.
And although it looks at each case on its own individual merits, an Ombudsman will usually consider any obligation to disclose changes in health applies only if there has been a fundamental change in health, such as a heart attack or a diagnosis of cancer.
Which? believes that these clauses remove certainty for policyholders - if firms have agreed to take on the risk of covering someone with a pre-existing medical condition, they shouldn’t have carte blanche to back out if circumstances change during the policy’s term.
Of 58 brands that we surveyed in January 2019, only 10 said they wouldn’t increase the premium, change the terms of cover or cancel the policy if a policyholder’s health deteriorated before taking a trip (see table, above).
LV didn’t respond to our survey, but it's terms also state that you don’t need to inform it of any changes to your medical health during the period of cover.
As long as you're not travelling against medical advice, these brands say they’ll provide the same level of cover until renewal.
At renewal, you should always inform your insurer of any changes to your health such as altered medication or visits to the doctor. If you're unsure of what to disclose, call up and speak to an adviser.
What if I’m diagnosed with cancer after taking out travel insurance?
As we explain above, 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, InsureCancer, Insurancewith, MIA Online, Treat-u-Fair or World First will cover you instead)
How do I get cheaper travel insurance if I've got cancer?
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 an alternative to Verisk 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, brands such as Clear2Go by MIA and InsureCancer assess you as an individual, looking at your medical records and talking to you over the phone, instead of using computerised medical screening.
4. Switch to single trip 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.