Many of us think travel insurance is a waste of money - until, that is, we have need to use it. Then, we're so grateful we took it out.
But how many of us read the policy wording? This contains highly important information which, if ignored, could mean exposing yourself to extremely high costs.
It is especially important to ensure you have met all the conditions of a travel insurance policy if you have a pre-existing medical condition. What is that? The precise definition will vary from one company to another but, in essence, it's a medical condition which was present when you booked the travel insurance or one for which you have, in the past few months, sought medical advice, been in hospital, had investigatory tests or taken medication.
Many people think they don't have a pre-existing medical condition. However, on further questioning, it can be discovered that they are on medication for asthma, blood pressure or high cholesterol. Because these conditions are stable - because of the medication - still means they are a chronic, pre-existing conditions.
The importance of ensuring any pre-existing medical condition is declared to an insurance company is that it can be assessed and, hopefully, covered by the terms of the policy. This means that should you require medical treatment when you're away that is linked (directly or indirectly) to a condition, then the associated costs will be covered by the insurance policy.
If you do not declare conditions (and have confirmation in writing that they have been accepted for cover) any claim might be rejected.
One person had a whole series of conditions but declared only one to an insurance company when booking travel insurance. He travelled to America and became seriously ill but because of the conditions he had not declared.
The hospital contacted the 24 hour medical assistance line used by the insurer, who confirmed he had a policy. Detailed information was obtained about the reasons for him being hospitalised and then checks were made with the medical screening service for what medical conditions had been declared and accepted for cover. It quickly came to light that the treatment needed was for a range of conditions not declared. Had they been, the person would have been told that cover could not be offered for them and he would be at risk if he travelled and needed treatment.
That man went home with a very large medical bill that was declined by the insurer.
Another person had declared his medical conditions but failed to mention that he had experienced atrial fibrulation (unsteady heart beat) because of a change of medication. His doctors had told him that he had nothing to worry about as they had changed his medication back and the atrial fibrulation stopped.
When he was travelling, guess what? He needed hospitalisation because of atrial fibrulation! So much for his doctors’ reassurance!
His insurers declined his claim. He argued the heart condition was caused by the change of medication, that it had been changed back and his doctors told him not to worry. However, the cause of a condition is not as relevant as the fact that it had existed at all. It should have been declared as part of his overall medical situation.
When doctors declare someone is fit to travel, they are using one set of criteria. When insurers assess whether to include someone's medical condition(s) within a travel insurance policy, they are using a completely different set. They are using tables of statistics that determine the likelihood of someone in that situation making a claim. Depending on the level of premiums for the policy, they will then decide whether to take the risk of insuring it. There has to be enough money in the ‘pot’ to be able to meet claims.
In another instance, a man with previous pancreatitis declared it to an insurer and it was accepted for cover under the policy. When away, he became ill and in great pain and needed urgent hospitalisation. His claim was met because it had been declared and accepted.
It's not only medical costs that an insurance would cover. If the person requiring medical treatment has a traveling companion with them, it is very comforting if they remain rather than return home. When we're ill, we can feel very anxious, even frightened, and the company of someone we know is often reassuring.
This can mean extra hotel costs for the traveling companion and new air fares for both when the person is discharged from hospital. Sometimes it's necessary for a doctor and/or nurse to accompany the person who has been in hospital. Sometimes it's necessary for the person to be repatriated in an air ambulance
It is vital that if you have any medical condition at all, declare it to a travel insurance company. Let them make the decision - don't risk making an assessment yourself - it could cost you an awful lot of money!
Kevin Waite runs his own company, It's So Easy Travel Insurance (http://www.itssoeasytravelinsurance.com ), which specialises in travel insurance for UK residents who have pre-existing medical conditions.