Hi and welcome to the next instalment of the disabled traveller series of posts. This issue will look at the maze that is Travel Insurance for the Disabled Traveller. One of the first questions everyone asks themselves is “Do I actually NEED travel Insurance (whether disabled or not)?”. And the answer is categorically YES. Maybe you could get away from it for a few days within the UK, but outside our borders it is an essential.
So, first to dispel a few myths. Have you heard of the EHIC Card? Yes, good for you. No – why not? So, how do you apply for one: see http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/1073.aspx. This is free and lasts for a few years. Now, one of the major myths about this card is that everyone assumes (wrongly) that it entitles the traveller to free cover in Europe, and/or they do not require additional travel insurance.
The EHIC Card entitles the holder to medical treatment required during your visit to a country in the European Economic Area or Switzerland whilst on a business trip or a holiday. IT DOES NOT COVER YOU IF YOU ARE MOVING ABROAD OR STUDYING ABROAD. It covers long-term conditions and existing illnesses and also childbirth/maternity care. The maternity care only applies for routine care and you must not have the intention of going abroad to give birth. The EHIC Card does not cover private medical care. The card offers cover from the state healthcare (of the country you are visiting) AT THE SAME RATE AS A RESIDENT OF THAT COUNTRY. Therefore if the residents pay towards the healthcare routinely then so will you. This may be free, at a reduced rate or at full rate depending on the state system. You may well be expected to pay for the treatment before you leave the country visited. If you do, it is wise to apply for a refund prior to leaving that country. If you are going abroad for pre-planned surgery (breast enhancement, facial surgery or any other cosmetic surgery) the EHIC will not cover you as this is private medical treatment. This also applies if you are going to Dignitas – whilst you may think that travel insurance in this instance is not required, should you change your mind or something goes wrong then the cover may actually be required.
So – the main points – Obtain the EHIC Card before you travel, be aware that it does not entitle you to free healthcare and that you may need to pay and then claim the money back.
Now onto the actual insurance cover and what to check for. Again, you should be aware that any illness/condition/ongoing treatment or anything pertaining your current health that is known at the time of applying for the insurance MUST be disclosed to the insurance company. Any failure to do this could invalidate your insurance regardless of whether your claim relates to a pre-existing condition or not. For example, if you have depression and take medication but fail to tell the insurers, fell and broke your leg, then the insurers are within their rights to refuse any cover at all. It may well be that the insurance company agree normal terms, but you should keep a written record of the details given about pre-existing conditions along with written notification from the insurers that they have accepted the details and exactly what you are or are not covered for.
ALWAYS read the policy details carefully. Ideally print a copy and read before accepting the quotation and paying. I have found this website below very useful for information and also for offering reasonably valued insurance cover: https://www.oktotravelinsurance.co.uk/disability-travel-insurance.aspx. As a very rough guide, a 50 year old with Type 2 Diabetes, non insulin dependent with a previous leg ulcer but no active problem going to Spain for a week at the end of July, the cover would cost just over £15.00 for a basic policy.
There are plenty of companies who do offer cover, but each one is decided on individual factors so it is best to get a few quotes from different insurers and compare the cover. A simple “Google” search will cough up many companies so do utilise price comparison sites to save money, but also check other companies that may not offer quotations through these sites.The company “Holiday Extras” offer quotations through Latitude Travel Insurance – http://www.holidayextras.co.uk/holiday-insurance/disabled.html.
When making comparisons, check cover provided and the amounts for:
Actual Cover – check that although you have a quote, it does actually cover for your condition/s. Be aware that some insurers will offer you quote, but your actual declared health issues are excluded.
Excess – This is how much you are expected to pay towards the cost of any treatment. Beware that each section of cover may have different excesses. An excess may be higher for a pre-existing condition.
Medical Cover – The total amount of “budget” for medical treatment while away. Again check any exclusions carefully. Ensure that you have the highest amount of cover you can afford. If travelling to the USA then a much higher Medical Expenses cover is required. This is because healthcare has to be paid for in total by almost all individuals of that country. A simple Emergency Department admission could be over £1000, but add in a CT scan plus Doctor’s fees for this then it could be around £40,000. Should include emergency dental, physiotherapy and funeral costs while abroad.
Cancellation/Disruption of Journey/Airspace failure – An amount to cover sudden cancellation of your holiday due to airline or other problems. This would include things such as natural disasters, e.g. the dust cloud from a volcano as happened a few years ago.
Financial Failure – Failure of the airline/travel company to be able to continue providing your travel which could leave you stranded.
Repatriation – The amount of cover to get you home after an accident/illness. Bear in mind this could include a private flight with or without a specialist nurse/doctor. Again to come home from the USA on a Scheduled aircraft you could be looking at £100,000. Often provided within the “medical expenses” section or may be listed separately. if listed within another part, you will need to ensure that the cover is enough to cover all parts.
Personal Accident/Personal Liability. The accident cover may well include loss of limb, loss of sight or permanent total disablement and the cover usually offers a fixed sum payable to you in the event of this happening. Personal Liability is becoming more important these days with the “where there’s blame, there’s a claim” culture. A sad fact of our society in the developed World, but you should consider this for any travel so if anyone tries to claim against you because you caused an incident then you will be covered.
Age limit – is there an upper age limit? – Especially if you are turning a major milestone of 60 70, 80 etc. while away. In some cases this could be as low as 50.
Kennel/cattery costs – if you have pets for any unexpected additional time away due to health problems.
24 hour helpline in your own language – A simple but important part of your cover. The ability to speak with someone is important in times of urgent need and this also makes it easier for a healthcare provider to contact your insurers.
Legal Cover – Again I would say that this is more important if you are disabled as the treatment options and claiming may be more difficult when disabled and having the peace of mind that you have an expert at hand for any legal liability is a comfort.
Other items that not everyone will consider essential, but worth checking cover when comparing: Baggage cover, money/credit cards, replacement of documents.
Loss of Passport: An emergency passport abroad to get you home could cost in excess of £100. So if you have your money and passport stolen, if you did not have this cover, you would have to contact somebody to pay for the emergency papers. You will not get this free regardless of your circumstances. Always keep a photocopy of your passport with you. Also, try to email this either to yourself, or to a close family member/friend as this will make it easier to obtain a replacement (but not cheaper).
Winter sports. If you are even thinking of trying out winter sports do make sure that this cover is included. This also applies to some water sports – usually motorised.
Specific items to disabled travel: Replacement of medical device (wheelchair, crutches etc.), after care when back home/convalescence, prescribed medications and also additional cover may be needed if you have a terminal illness.
I am sorry that the list is so extensive, but as a disabled traveller you need to ensure that you have more than enough cover, and that your conditions are included and/or you are aware of any exclusions. The list is not exhaustive and is meant as a guide only. Because of the nature of health conditions, it is extremely important to obtain individual quotations (in writing where possible – even if email or screen print).
And to finalise this post, be aware that packaged travel insurance from Banks, Credit Card Companies etc. may only provide basic cover and will almost certainly not cover any pre-existing conditions without you speaking in depth with them. This also includes any insurance offers through travel companies, so be aware.