Holidaymakers with medical conditions ‘face barriers to finding the right cover’

Holidaymakers who are older or have medical conditions can end up paying several times the amount that some others would pay for insurance, or face being priced out of traveling altogether, according to Which? research.

The consumer group commissioned a survey of more than 4,000 people who had taken out an annual travel insurance policy in the past two years.

It found the median average price paid for those declaring medical conditions was 56% or £54 more than those without medical conditions.

People with medical conditions paid £150 on average while those without paid around £96, the survey indicated.

One customer, who told Which? they have well-controlled diabetes, said they had found they were paying roughly four times what they would be charged if they did not declare their condition, which they described as “so unfair”.

Age is also a factor when it comes to paying higher premiums, with hikes particularly seen for travelers 75 or older, even if they are in good health, Which? said.

The median average price paid for annual cover by those aged 75 or older was £300 – 65% (or £118) higher compared with customers aged 65 to 74 (£182), and more than double the amount paid by those aged 55 to 64 (£142).

Older travelers who also have medical conditions could see their premiums bumped higher still.

Measures are in place to help “signpost” people to specialist travel insurers.

Six in 10 (61%) people surveyed for Which? had a pre-existing medical condition or a history of one – and within this group, more than a third (36%) said that in the past three years, they had encountered problems buying travel insurance because of their conditions.

This could include expensive premiums, insurers declining to cover their conditions and issues when claiming, Which? said.

Just under half (48%) of people who have difficulty buying insurance because of their medical conditions in the past three years have tried a specialist directory.

Of those with medical conditions, one-fifth (21%) said their medical conditions meant premiums were affordable but very expensive, while just under one in 10 (8%) said if they disclosed their medical conditions, they were offered insurance, but not at prices they could afford.

which? said 7% had skipped buying insurance because of the high costs, leaving them without crucial protections should things go wrong while away.

Of the customers in Which?’s survey who had claimed within the past two years, more than a third (36%) had their claims rejected, disputed or only paid in part.

Where insurers gave claimants a reason, most commonly it was because of policy exclusions (32%). The second most common reason was pre-existing medical conditions (27%).

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) will introduce a new consumer duty this summer, which will set higher and clearer standards of consumer protection across financial services and requires firms to put their customers’ needs first.

Jenny Ross, editor of Which? Money, said: “It’s really concerning that travelers with medical conditions still routinely face barriers to finding the right cover for their holidays.

“Our research has found that awareness of the specialist directories is too low among those who could benefit from them, meaning some travelers could either assume they can’t get cover, decide not to disclose their conditions due to price concerns or disclose them and end up paying more than they should.

“The FCA’s new consumer duty must mean that insurance firms improve the visibility of their signing, and be clearer with customers about how their cover could be limited as a result of their pre-existing conditions.

“The regulator must be ready to take action against firms not following the rules.”

Dynata carried out the travel insurance customer research for Which? in March.

The British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) and MoneyHelper have specialist directories for customers with medical conditions, and Which? said its research indicated that most people who used these directories were offered better prices from firms listed on them than they were elsewhere.

which? also said people should read their policies carefully and declare any medical conditions they want to be covered.

The consumer group also said that if an insurer refuses to pay out, the customer should receive a clear explanation. If this is not satisfactory, the customer should make a complaint in writing, Which? suggested.

A spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers (ABI) said: “Our members work hard to ensure competitively-priced products are available to as many people as possible.

“As part of the longstanding signing agreement, if an insurer is unable to offer you cover, they automatically refer you to an alternative provider who can help.

“This process is currently under review and we are working closely with the FCA to understand how it is working and any improvements that could be made.

“Disclosing pre-existing medical conditions is the key to making sure your policy meets your needs, so it is vital that all questions are answered fully and honestly.

“If you have any doubts about what you need to declare, you should speak to your insurer. We and our members understand that simple, straightforward communication is essential.”

Graeme Trudgill, executive director of BIBA, said: “BIBA and our insurance broker members are committed to helping those with medical conditions seeking travel insurance to obtain suitable cover at the best terms available from insurers.

“The travel insurance market has changed since the pandemic, with far less insurance capacity available. It is also the case that more people have been unable to have regular medical checks because of the impacts of Covid, contributing to the frequency and size of claims after travel has been fully reopened.

“A number of factors will influence travel insurance premiums, such as age, medical history, where people are traveling to, choice and cost of holidays – and whether people are looking to cover specific trips or have worldwide cover.

“Insurers need to assess the likelihood of an insured person becoming ill before they travel, causing cancellation or while they are away and needing treatment overseas.

“Unfortunately, older people and people living with medical conditions do claim more often, this alongside rising medical claims costs, inflation, exchange rate challenges and holiday prices has affected premiums.”

Mr Trudgill added: “Fortunately, there are many specialists who use sophisticated medical screening to assess an individual’s claim risk and can find suitable insurance for the vast majority of people who apply.

“On the BIBA website, there is a travel medical insurance directory that meets FCA criteria that will help (people) with medical conditions to find a suitable broker, or they can call 0370 950 1790.

“Travel insurance is vital and it’s important to get cover that meets your needs. Anyone with a medical condition must declare it to avoid any complications if they do have to make a claim.”

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