One in five has faced problems getting travel cover because of pre-existing medical conditions, but this rises to more than four out of five among the over-65s.
Cancer, diabetes, high or low blood pressure, chronic pain, prescribed medication or a previous heart attack are the main obstacles to getting cover, according to research from Co-op. Arthritis, asthma, angina and even high cholesterol can also wreck holiday plans.
Anybody can be rejected, as former Grand National winner Bob Champion discovered when he tried to renew his travel insurance policy five years ago.
Champion, 69, is famous for winning his battle against cancer and recovering to win at Aintree on Aldaniti in 1981, but getting travel cover was a tougher hurdle after his insurer rejected him at renewal.
“I travel a lot, especially on cruise ships where I am professionally engaged to talk about my life,” he said. “I called my insurers to renew my policy only to be declined. Their underwriting criteria had changed and I was no longer insurable.”
Ironically, cancer was not the problem, as he has fully recovered, but pre-existing conditions relating to his heart: “I spent hours on the phone to insurers, pressing buttons in response to automated voice instruction, only to be declined at the end of it. I couldn’t get a single insurer willing to quote me at all.”
Like a growing number of older people Champion eventually found cover through a specialist, in this case AllClear, which granted him an annual multi-trip policy costing £250. “I was expecting to pay four or five times that amount. I’ve now been with AllClear for four years and the cost has barely increased.”
Chairman Mike Rutherford said too many are being rejected by the industry’s “computer says no” culture: “Everyone has a right to travel. Old age or a medical condition should not make you uninsurable.”
Many banks and insurers automatically block older people because of their age, with Barclays, HSBC and Esure drawing the line at 79, or 74 on HSBC’s annual multi-trip policy.
However, AllClear has even insured 99-year-olds and other specialist insurers also set no upper age limit, including INSUREANDGO.com, FREESPIRITTRAVELINSURANCE.com, Age UK, GOODTOGOINSURANCE.com, Saga.co.uk, StaySure.co.uk and TravelInsurance4Medical.co.uk.
One third of those rejected admit to taking a chance and travelling without insurance, Co-op’s research found, but they are taking a big risk, with the average travel insurance claim costing £2,000.
You could pay a lot more if you suffer a serious illness, especially in countries with high medical costs such as America.
Co-op offers cover for any age or medical condition and head of travel insurance Colin Butler said: “It is worrying that people who find it difficult to get suitable travel cover are ignoring travel insurance completely.”
Travel Insurance Explained expert Fiona Macrae said travellers should resist the temptation to hide medical conditions or prescription medication: “Tell your insurer, no matter how insignificant you think it is, otherwise it could reject any future claim.”
Sarah Page, brand manager of InsuranceWith, said declare all medical issues even if they not causing any problems: “Travelling to different climates can affect even well-controlled conditions.”
Mike Preston, business development director at comparison site CompareCover.com, said one third of its applicants have pre-existing conditions.
“Holidays are a time to relax. Worrying you haven’t declared a condition is only going to raise your blood pressure.”