Existing medical conditions and travel insurance

How to find cover when you're living with a medical condition 

5 minutes

If you live with an existing medical condition like cancer, diabetes or a heart condition, getting the right type of travel insurance can be tough. Here's how to find the best travel insurance for your condition.

Whether you've recently been diagnosed, you're recovering from treatment or you live day to day with a long-term medical condition, looking forward to a holiday can be a great morale boost.

But when it comes to booking your travel insurance, it can be a struggle to find the right type of cover for your condition.

Chat to your insurance provider before you travel

Why do I need travel insurance?

If you travel overseas and need emergency medical assistance, your travel insurance can help pay for your treatment.

Not many countries provide the level of free treatment available on the NHS. So, if you travel abroad with a serious condition like cancer, diabetes or heart disease, it's crucial that you have a travel insurance policy in place that covers your existing medical conditions in case you need essential emergency treatment.

And if you need to be flown home for treatment, travel insurance can cover the cost of getting you back to the UK, using an air ambulance if medically necessary.

Travel insurance will also often cover cancellation of your trip and lost or stolen baggage and valuables. This can include replacing medication or medical equipment, such as a wheelchair, if it goes missing or gets damaged. But check your policy before you leave - not all equipment is covered and each item is insured only up to a certain amount.
Many mainstream travel insurance companies are able to provide cover for a variety of health conditions

Don't all travel insurance companies provide medical cover?

When you take out travel insurance that includes medical cover, you're paying an amount to the insurance company before you travel in exchange for any emergency treatment you may need while you're away. You pay the amount whether or not you actually use the insurance, and you don't get your premium back if you don't make a claim.

Travellers with pre-existing medical conditions are more likely to make a medical claim and cost the insurance company money.

So, to offset the additional costs, insurance companies have come up with two ways around the problem.

1. Exclude all pre-existing medical conditions

You can get medical travel insurance for your trip, but the insurance company won't pay out for claims directly or indirectly related to your existing illness.

Unless your condition is particularly mild or well controlled over the long-term, or you've been in remission for some time, it's quite a big risk to travel without full medical cover.

2. Charge extra for medical cover

Your condition will be covered, but you'll pay a higher premium for cover than someone who doesn't have any existing conditions. The insurance company works out the risk of insuring you and calculates the cost of your insurance accordingly.

If you have a terminal diagnosis or you're particularly unwell, you may not be able to get cover for your medical condition at all.

But if you have a less serious condition, one that's well managed with drugs or you're in remission from cancer, then you're more likely to be able to find medical travel insurance cover.

Where can I find cover?

These days, many mainstream travel insurance companies are able to provide cover for a variety of health conditions and tailor your travel insurance quote to you.

When you apply for travel insurance, you’ll probably be asked a series of questions including whether you want to cover a pre-existing condition. If you have a condition like cancer, diabetes or heart disease, you must declare it as a pre-existing condition. If you don’t, your insurance company has the right to refuse to pay for any claims directly or indirectly related to this condition while you’re travelling.

If the insurance company generally provides cover for the condition, they’ll ask you some more detailed questions about the disease to find out the severity of your condition and whether they can offer you specific cover or not.

If they can’t provide medical cover at all, there are some specialist travel insurance companies who may be able to provide insurance for your trip.

The British Insurance Brokers’ Association can help you find a specialist provider.

Can I use the EHIC in Europe?

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will cover you for public or state medical treatment in the country you’re visiting.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that all medical treatment is free. In some European countries, the state will charge for some medical care. You can usually reclaim these costs through your travel insurance if you used your EHIC to get treatment, as long as the condition you're treated for is covered by your insurance.

However, don’t rely on the EHIC to provide the full level of cover you may need. For example, it won’t pay for you to get home to receive medical care back in the UK.