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16 Jul 2019

New rules could help people with medical conditions find affordable travel insurance

The regulator has outlined plans for a new signposting service to help customers who face inflated premiums due to their medical histories

Shopping for travel insurance can be expensive, laborious and frustrating if you've ever been diagnosed with a serious health condition - even if you're now fully fit to travel. But that could be set to change.

The Financial Conduct Authority is considering plans for a new signposting service that would point customers with medical conditions to more affordable travel cover.

Repeated Which? investigations have found that people with pre-existing medical conditions (PEMCs) routinely face inflated premiums or can only find policies that exclude all claims related to their condition.

We explain how the new service would work and how you can save on your travel policy.

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What is signposting and how will it help?

This week, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) launched a consultation on plans to introduce a 'signposting rule'.

Under the scheme, insurers would be obliged to direct consumers to alternative providers in the following circumstances:

  • where a consumer is declined or has cover cancelled mid-term due to a PEMC
  • where they are offered cover with an exclusion for a PEMC that cannot be removed
  • where they are offered cover with an additional premium loaded due to their PEMC.

The new signposting service was originally expected by spring 2019 but the FCA says it has worked with stakeholders to develop several options for how it could look in practice. It is now seeking feedback from the industry and charities by 15 September, before publishing its final rules.

Signposting is a step in the right direction but the detail will be important - for example, where will this signposting service be hosted, and how it will operate?

The FCA is proposing that the directory will sit with the new Money and Pensions Service (MAPS). If an independent body takes on the responsibility, it must be in a position to assess and update the chosen panel of specialists on a regular basis, ideally using feedback from real customers and cancer charities.

Deciding when to point consumers towards the directory is also crucial. The FCA wants all consumers who may potentially pay more on their premium due to a PEMC to be notified of the directory, having rejected the idea of a threshold related to specific medical screening scores or premiums.

This should be a clearer way to ensure that consumers who are most likely to benefit from shopping around are aware of the directory, though it doesn't go as far as notifying everyone who declares a PEMC.

Why is signposting needed?

Automated medical screening has meant that more insurers can cover travellers with PEMCs than ever before, but those with complicated medical histories can easily fall through the gaps.

Specialist travel insurance brands are crowded out of the market, so most people first seek quotes from mainstream insurers that are less likely to meet their needs.

The majority of insurers use the exact same medical screening software, meaning you often have to answer the same medical questions time and time again, only to be quoted exorbitant sums or refused cover altogether.

After being repeatedly declined, would-be travellers may assume they are 'uninsurable' and decide to risk travelling without cover or cancel their holidays.

Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which?, said: 'Our research has shown that those with pre-existing medical conditions routinely face inflated premiums and confusing clauses, with some only able to find policies that exclude all claims related to their condition in the mainstream market.

'Any new rules must ensure that all those with pre-existing conditions receive clear information on how to easily find policies that cover their needs at the best price available, to ensure people no longer feel forced to cancel trips or travel without insurance.'

How can I save money on travel insurance now?

When you search for travel insurance, insurers will use trigger questions to determine whether you are a 'clean risk' or need to be directed to medical screening.

Read the wording of these questions carefully. Many firms will want to screen you if you have ever been diagnosed with or treated for any psychological, cancerous, respiratory, heart or circulatory conditions.

Others only ask you to declare your medical history if you have received advice, medication or treatment for a serious, chronic or recurring disease, illness or injury in the past five years. A handful will only require these details from the past 12 months.

If you're directed towards medical screening, you'll face detailed questions about your medication, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis, so it may be helpful to call your consultant before you start the process.

Here are some tips for finding a policy that works for you:

1. Get a ballpark figure first

Use our Best Rate tables to get an idea of brands offering cheap premiums for travellers with various pre-existing medical conditions.

Alternatively, comparison sites and brokers such as All Clear Travel, Just Travel Cover and Medical Travel Compared can be a useful starting point.

2. Try a different screening system

The vast majority of insurers use medical screening software by a company called Verisk (formerly Healix) to generate a 'medical risk score'.

Verisk can be a good option if your last treatment was several years ago and there is no further treatment planned. But if the price is too high, or no one is willing to cover you, try an insurer that uses an alternative to Verisk screening.

When we surveyed 58 companies about their screening software in February 2019, we found that 15 use an alternative to Verisk: either Protectif, Tamis or bespoke one-to-one screening.

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.

Instead of using computerised medical screening, a consultant will look at your medical records and talk to you over the phone before offering a policy.

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

The duration and destination of your trip are key factors in determining premiums, so you can save a considerable amount by shortening your trip or changing the country.

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. It may be wise to avoid these destinations if you can't find a good deal.

Which? has previously found that premiums jumped by an average of 76% when we gathered quotes and changed the destination from France to Spain.

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 does allow you to access state-provided healthcare in the European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland at a reduced cost or free of charge.