A Which? Travel investigation has found evidence of serious failings by travel insurers – even when customers are faced with life-or-death situations.
One holidaymaker, Beverley Waugh, had to wait 12 days to find out whether her husband’s insurer, Axa, would pay out when he suffered a cardiac arrest in Japan. ‘On top of worrying about my husband, I thought for almost two weeks that I might have to sell the house to pay for his care,’ Beverley told us.
Other issues encountered by Which? members included anxious waits for insurers to authorise medical care, spending up to £200 on telephone calls to helplines, and being passed from one company to another.
Many of these problems, it seems, may have been due in part to insurers outsourcing both medical care and claims handling. Some of the members had as many as five different companies involved in their case.
Lack of sensitivity
Beverley Waugh’s husband spent 16 days in intensive care and had to be airlifted back to the UK. Meanwhile she found herself repeatedly phoning Axa’s Barcelona call-centre, desperate to find out if it would cover the hugely expensive medical bill. By the time it paid out the last part of her claim, her husband had died.
‘There seemed to be no difference in the way Axa treated my claim, to the way it would treat someone losing a pair of glasses,’ she said.
Axa apologised to Beverley and said: ‘Our goal as an insurer is not only to pay the claims of our customers but to deal with them sensitively at their time of need. On this occasion we have fallen short of our standards.’
Passing the buck?
The family of keen hiker Tony Willey logged the names of a dozen different people when they called Healix, his insurer’s outsourced medical emergency company, after Tony suffered a heart attack in Andorra. ‘It was rarely possible to speak to the same person twice,’ Tony says. ‘It was an absolute nightmare. We spent around £200 on phone calls.’
Tony then faced further confusion about how to claim. His policy documents said to contact Travel Claims Services. But TCS told him to call Claims Settlement Agencies. Ultimately the decision was taken by yet another company, HCC.
His insurer, Avanti, said it was ‘disappointed that Mr. Willey’s experience of Avanti did not match the high standards that we set ourselves as a business,’ and that it has reviewed its procedures and passed on the findings to Healix.
David Hollins, 75, had to wait for almost two months to receive confirmation that his insurer would pay medical bills incurred when he became short of breath on a holiday to Dubai. His insurance was provided by Globelink, but the medical emergency number went through to a company called Mayday Assistance. He then had to claim from a third company, Reactive Claims, but Reactive Claims wouldn’t pay out for his phone calls and told him he’d need to complain to Mayday Assistance.
The ultimate decision on his claim was made by a fourth company, Lloyds of London underwriter ANV, now part of AmTrust.
He did finally receive his expenses and was offered £150 compensation, which he asked to be paid to Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Mayday told us: ‘We collated all the required information within a matter of days, however his general practitioner was very slow and unco-operative in providing requested information. Despite our best efforts we regret that there was a delay in a final decision being made by both parties, which was inevitably beyond our control.’
AmTrust says it has ‘reviewed Mr Hollins’ case to understand what went wrong for him in the process’.