British holidaymakers are invalidating their travel insurance by not informing insurers of pre-existing medical conditions, says medical travel insurance specialist AllClear.
Three out of five (60%) holidaymakers admit to either holding back crucial details about their medical history, or not being aware of its importance unless/until prompted
The rising cost of premiums, or the risk of being refused cover altogether, are thought to be to blame. Lack of awareness of whether such 'minor' conditions as asthma or high blood pressure need to be declared is also an issue.
AllClear's findings follow alarming figures from Sainsbury's Finance that showed that 500,000 people travelled abroad last year without adequate insurance For those that did take out cover, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) warned that some are withholding information that might invalidate their policy should a claim need to be made.
"Some travellers do not understand the potential consequences of their pre-existing medical conditions," says Chris Blackman, Head of Product Development at AllClear. "And yet if they fall ill abroad, and need to be repatriated, they could find themselves facing an enormous bill."
AllClear's research shows that cost is the major driver in choosing an insurance product: 57% said that they sought out the cheapest insurance, while only 22% said that they were looking for value for money.
"Travel insurers share common issues with motor insurers," Chris says. "Cheaper products often mean less cover, and policyholders only discover they are not covered at the point that a claim is made."
Chris believes it does not mean they are necessarily being dishonest, however. "We suspect that someone who previously suffered from a heart problem or cancer, for example, may say, 'well if it comes back whilst I'm away, I'll just get on a plane and come home'. So they don't want to pay for it.
"Unfortunately this can often end in disaster. Failing to disclose such vital information means your insurer will be within their rights not to honour your claim, and you could be left stranded."
AllClear recently reported that the average cost of claims for repatriating holidaymakers taken ill whilst overseas is in excess of £25,000. An analysis of claims handled by the medical travel insurance specialist, showed that insurers are increasingly having to fork out huge sums to get travellers home, even for apparently minor injuries or ailments. One case, for a broken ankle, led to an 11-day stay in a hospital in Menorca and a claim of £28,000 on return to the UK.
AllClear analysed the payouts from thousands of claims. Whereas small claims for £5,000 were commonplace, claims in excess of half a million have also been recorded. "The cost of repatriation varies enormously depending on the country you visit, and of course the condition you suffer," continues Chris. "The problem is, if you're not insured, then you will be liable for the cost."
One of the most unusual cases recently involved a man with a history of heart problems who felt unwell and ran up bills of £13,000 just having tests to find out what was wrong. In the end there was nothing wrong with him, but the case demonstrates how doctors will always err on the side of caution for those with a medical history
"Just by having a history of illness can cause treating physicians to be more cautious about discharging a patient without thorough tests and a period of observation, all of which cost money. So those travellers without insurance who think their condition can be controlled with medication could still find themselves facing a massive bill," Chris concludes.