More MS news articles for April 2001

You won't be unfit for travel

People with a disability often fear they'll be turned down for holiday cover.

31 March 2001
By Tom Tickell

Buying travel insurance may be straightforward for most people, but it fills others with dread. Those with epilepsy or other medical problems, known as pre-existing conditions in insurance terms, worry if they will be turned down for cover.

More than 6.8 million people of working age count as disabled, which can mean anything from diabetes and epilepsy to cancer and multiple sclerosis. Many of them worry about travel insurance almost instinctively. If you are disabled, you can get insurance that covers all standard risks such as liability, loss or theft of baggage, and even medical expenses. But the fear is that it will exclude the one medical problem which worries you.

In fact, rejection is very unlikely. Insurers will usually cover you unless you are travelling abroad for medical treatment, or have some terminal illness, or are travelling against the advice of your doctor or consultant. Insurers are more likely to load the premiums, though how much they charge over the odds will depend on your medical problem, where you are going, and the length of time you are going to be away.

Companies often take different attitudes and there are no questions on the insurance form about whether another firm has loaded the travel cover charges in the past or turned you down. Most insurers ask for details such as the medication you have to take and whether you have had to go to hospital recently. The most crucial question is whether you are travelling against medical advice.

There may be a temptation to massage the truth. But serious inaccuracies can mean insurers will have the right to refuse your claim because you gave them false information.

Sometimes, insurers can suspend the non-medical parts of holiday insurance. If you are on an NHS waiting list for an operation, Norwich Union, along with some other insurers, may suspend the cancellation cover which pays out if you are forced to postpone a holiday.

"There are no hard-and-fast rules," says Liz Nicholson of Norwich Union. "The Disability Discrimination Act bans insurers from taking a broad-brush approach. We can't decide to load premiums for everyone with a particular medical problem. We have to assess people individually.

"That can mean looking at the details of the holiday itself. We would be far more likely to provide standard terms if people were going away to a resort in Europe with a full quota of hospitals, than if they planned to go on safari in Africa."

Many charities, including the British Epilepsy Association and Diabetes UK, have arrangements with specialist brokers which make a point of dealing with disability. Some of them provide special terms if you apply via the charity's group scheme. If you are not registered with a charity, talking to specialist brokers and insurers makes sense.

The broker Mars Insurance deals with people with disabilities, usually providing cover through Lloyd's syndicates. It works differently from conventional insurers. "Our system is telephone based," says Carol Grieve at Mars. "People ring us and we transfer them to underwriters at another number, who ask them 10 or perhaps 15 questions. They use a computer system with a vast medical database, which assesses risk very fast. We can tell you on the phone whether we will take you on standard terms, or whether you have to pay slightly over the odds.

"Once we have agreed terms, we send out details of everything you have told us. That means there can be no disagreements if there is a later claim. "

Very few people find that their applications are rejected, though it can happen. Some specialists may even take on people with a terminal illness, if they are likely to survive for more than two years. They will be much tougher if you are waiting for medical tests, or their results, because they do not have adequate details to assess your risk.

Some specialists, like Tyser, insist that anyone accompanying you if you are disabled should be insured with them too. The move makes sense anyway. All insurance forms stress that you must include all necessary information. People travelling with anyone who is seriously disabled tend to be slightly more likely to cancel or to come home early than other people because of their companion's medical problems.

Insurers will pay out up to £2m on even basic policies, and many pay between £5m or £10m, particularly outside Europe. All too often, people with a medical problem or disability suspect the worst on insurance. With travel cover at least, they will probably be delighted to be wrong.

* Contacts: Mars Insurance Bureau, 0208 366 2222; Tyser Group, 0207 397 4888/9; Our Way Travel, 0208 313 3900.