Travel insurance cover is obviously a necessity, but it's often a cost we don’t think about when we’re initially shopping for somewhere to go.
The typical process for many might be: pick a place; find the cheapest flight; book a hotel; buy everything you could possibly need while away, whether it's a new pair of shades, sun protection or guidebooks; and then think about travel insurance a couple of weeks or days before departure (recently, I witnessed a friend of mine calling to arrange his travel insurance while in the baggage check-in queue).
For some holidays and some holiday-makers, this might be a practice which works. It’s common for people to find a broker they like, and then simply go back to them to take out subsequent policies; and for a weekend city break or a beach holiday in Europe, standard cover will usually be quite inexpensive.
But for those venturing further afield, or those with a pre-existing medical condition, the process of getting adequate cover may be a little trickier. Insurance companies will need to screen those included on the policy, may charge more to insure them, or may even opt not to insure them at all if they perceive the risk as being too high.
Shopping around can no doubt seem like a daunting and laborious task, but simply opting not to take out a policy certainly isn’t advisable. However much your policy might be, the price of getting care overseas is bound to be much more.
According to The British Association of Insurers, the cost of receiving treatment abroad averages at £2,040. They also note that a coronary bypass procedure undertaken in the US combined with a subsequent emergency expedition back to the UK may incur a bill of up to £49,000.
While the cost of getting medical treatment internationally is something far outside of our influence or control, the cost or our travel insurance policy, to an extent, needn’t be.
There are measures we can take that can help to bring the costs of policies down, as well as make brokers more likely to insure us, and improve our health in general:
Follow Your Appointment Schedule
Many of those with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, will attend outpatient appointments on a periodic basis. At these, a specialist nurse or consultant will review the patient’s condition, and may undertake a variety of tests.
From a health perspective, keeping to schedule with these appointments is obviously important. They help those caring for the patient to monitor their condition, and whether any adjustments to treatment plans are required.
However, when screening someone with a pre-existing condition, an insurance company will want to assess whether patient and consultant have the condition under control. They may ask if the patient is awaiting test results or how often they are being seen by their specialist, and whether hospital admission has been necessary in the previous year.
So staying on schedule with hospital appointments and periodic assessments is therefore particularly crucial to health, but also to lower travel insurance costs. If a patient isn’t attending appointments as required, or doesn’t appear to be sufficiently managing their condition, they will likely be putting their health at increased risk and making it tougher (and in turn more costly) for brokers to insure them.
Those travelling to regions where diseases such as hepatitis A, typhoid or rabies are an increased risk will need to ensure they receive the required vaccinations prior to travel, for obvious health reasons. Persons travelling to countries where malaria is prevalent may be advised to take antimalarial treatment as a preventative measure, to limit the chances of infection.
When taking out a policy for travel to these regions, insurance companies will require and often specify that all persons on the policy receive the necessary vaccinations and boosters. Again, it comes down to the likelihood of needing emergency care; if someone hasn’t undertaken the necessary prophylactic measures, but requires hospital admission and treatment for a contracted illness, then the policy may not pay out, and the full cost of treatment may be incurred.
Getting vaccinated may then not bring down the cost of insurance, but more importantly it is a basic requirement of those policies covering travel to certain areas. If you haven’t had them, your insurance will likely not be valid (and of course, you’ll be at increased risk of becoming seriously ill).
Check with the foreign office website to see government travel guidelines on different countries across the world. If you want to avoid high prices in private vaccination clinics, go to your GP eight weeks prior to departure. You may be able to get the vaccinations required more cheaply through an NHS provider.
Take Charge of Your Medicines
This applies to those travelling to areas where prophylaxis is necessary (such as where malaria is present) but also to those with pre-existing medical conditions.
It’s vital to make sure that you adhere to your specific treatment regime at all times anyway, so that you remain in good health. But it’s vital when preparing to go on holiday to undertake extra preparations, so that you aren’t as likely to require access to treatment when overseas, and incur extra insurance costs.
If you receive repeat prescriptions from your regular GP surgery and pharmacy, it’s good practice to let them know in advance about your plans to go away. This way, they’ll be able to provide you with enough medication to last the duration, or prepare your order early if your scheduled collection falls on a date while you’re out of the country.
Once again, most policies for pre-existing conditions will specify that you need to take your medication as directed by your prescriber, during your holiday and in the weeks before, for the policy to be valid.
Apply for an EHIC
It’s important if you’re travelling to another EU country to be in possession of an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card). It enables you to receive necessary medical treatment, either for free or at a significantly lowered rate, depending on the country (and provided it is within the European Economic Area).
Those who do require medical attention in Europe and make an insurance claim, but use their EHIC to reduce the cost of this treatment, may find in some cases that the insurance company fulfilling their policy either writes off or decreases the excess payable. So even if the EHIC doesn't cover all of your costs and you still need to put in a claim, it can still save you a significant amount of cash.
The UK’s capacity to access the EHIC scheme may become an area of some uncertainty in a little over three weeks. But in the meantime, they’re free and you can (and should) apply for one here.
Think About the Long Game
Regular readers likely knew this was going to be said at some point, but one of the best ways to reduce your travel insurance premiums is simply to - yes - maintain a healthy overall lifestyle.
The extra costs incurred by a pre-existing medical condition can obviously vary depending on your age, where you’re going, and what you intend to do while you’re away.
Conditions such as high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes and high cholesterol can all be exacerbated or in some cases, instigated by an unhealthy lifestyle, and they’re all factors which can cause insurance premiums to rise.
So, most importantly, doing what you can to prevent or manage them will obviously help you to be healthier, but it will also save you money on travel cover in the long-term.