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Clampdown on rip-off travel insurance for cancer patients

Watchdog to launch new signposting service for travel insurance with pre-existing medical conditions

Clampdown on rip-off travel insurance for cancer patients

Cancer patients priced out of the travel insurance market have been promised more affordable premiums and clearer information, following an investigation by the financial watchdog.

After issuing a call for evidence last summer, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has outlined plans to make it easier for those with pre-existing medical conditions to find travel cover.

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.

Signposting to specialist insurers

Travellers with pre-existing conditions typically make first contact with a mainstream provider and are often quoted exorbitant sums or even declined cover altogether.

To solve this, a new signposting service, expected by spring 2019, will redirect consumers to the specialist market, which is more likely to insure serious medical conditions, including conditions with terminal diagnoses.

Specialists willing to cover travellers with a history of cancer struggle to compete with the advertising budgets of mainstream providers, so signposting is likely to boost their visibility.

Although brokers currently direct consumers to alternative insurers, signposting is particularly poor via price comparison sites, which three-quarters of people use to find single-trip travel insurance.

In future, the FCA has said it’s important that all providers (direct insurers, specialist brokers, travel agents and comparison sites) and all distribution channels (online, face-to-face and phone) become members of the signposting service.

Another interesting development could be a reduction in insurance premium tax (IPT), which is set at the higher rate of 20% for travel insurance. Although not within its remit, the FCA said it has shared feedback with the Treasury that consumers with pre-existing medical conditions should be exempt from this tax.

Find out more: Medical conditions travel insurance reviews

An end to rip-off travel cover?

Cancer charity Macmillan said it was ‘disappointed that these proposals do not go even further’, arguing that oversimplified medical screening and ‘one-size-fits-all’ policies mean that many will still be faced with limited choice and disproportionately high premiums.

Most insurers use trigger questions to determine whether you need to declare specific medical conditions. But even people years into remission have told us they struggle to find suitable policies, largely because mainstream medical screening isn’t as sophisticated as it could be.

For example, Which? has previously found that quotes for a week in France for someone with uterine cancer that has spread (metastatic cancer) soared by £160 if they reported seeing their doctor four or five times in the past 12 months about their condition, instead of three times.

A handful of insurers use alternative screening systems such as Protectif, TAMIS, or bespoke services, which may assess risk more accurately. See the table below for details of which medical screening tools insurers use.

Tips for cheaper travel cover

1. Get a ballpark figure

When buying travel insurance with a medical condition, it can be difficult to know whether a quote is reasonable, or astronomically higher than a competitor would offer.

Our Best Rate insurance 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 non-mainstream screening such as Protectif, or offers one-to-one verbal screening (see our table below).

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.

So if you’re struggling to secure cover, consider opting for a single policy instead.

5. Change your destination

Cover for the US, where most medical care is private, is notoriously pricey, but medical bills are also growing in Spain, Cyprus, Egypt, Malta, Portugal and Turkey.

Avoid these destinations if you can’t find a good deal, and consider travelling somewhere with more affordable rates.

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 is also useful (swissassist.ch), as it pays for repatriation in a private ambulance jet.

Find out more: Travel insurance for cancer patients – how sophisticated screening can keep premiums down

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