Common Cold could now void travel insurance as new ripoff is about to start
Common cold could void travel cover
An insurer now wants to know every time you see a GP, raising fears that customers will be denied cover and costs will jump
By Rosie Murray-West8:00PM GMT 29 Nov 2013CommentsComments
Travel insurers – especially those dealing with older policyholders – are demanding more information than ever about their customers’ medical histories, leading to fears that more applicants could be denied cover altogether and that costs could rise.
One provider of annual travel cover has even gone so far as to demand customers disclose every visit to the doctor, however commonplace the reason.
Staysure, which specialises in travel insurance for the over 50s, has emailed all its policyholders asking them to phone in and report any sickness that they have had – even just a common cold, The Daily Telegraph has learned.
Staysure said its underwriters needed to know about anything that its policyholders had seen the doctor about. “The email is Staysure trying to be proactive about helping customers make sure they’ve done that,” a spokesman said.
The email, sent earlier this month, asked policyholders to “remember to declare any condition you have suffered from or visited a doctor with no matter how minor (i.e. a cold) just to make sure you are fully covered”.
Annual travel insurance policies, such as those offered by Staysure, are popular with travellers who go on several trips a year. It is often cheaper to buy one policy that gives cover for every trip taken over a 365-day period than to buy insurance for each separate holiday.
However, if a policyholder develops an illness in the middle of that annual period, the insurer may argue that the policy is no longer valid. Also, if the policyholder declares the condition the insurer can raise a customer’s premium in the middle of an annual policy, should it judge that the new medical information makes the customer a higher risk.
Staysure said the new guidance was to help its customers not to invalidate their policies. “People who travel without having declared all existing medical conditions could be unwittingly invalidating their insurance, which obviously could have financial implications, so the aim is to make sure that doesn’t happen,” a spokesman said.
However, a spokesman for the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), which rules on complaints about travel insurance claims that are turned down, said the move could be the beginning of a drive by insurers to force customers to declare even minor‑sounding illnesses.
The spokesman cited the new Consumer Insurance Act, which came into force in April and gives insurance policyholders legal protection if they unknowingly give incorrect or incomplete information to their insurer.
This means that an insurer can no longer invalidate your policy if it doesn’t ask the right questions when you buy cover and it turns out later that you have a medical condition that the insurer didn’t know about.
The Act gives consumers greater rights if claims are declined. The ombudsman said insurers were likely to demand more specific disclosure from consumers as a result. However, the spokesman said Staysure’s advice was “an example of an insurer trying to do the right thing in a very odd way” and noted that the requirement to inform the insurer of any GP visits was not part of the policy’s terms and conditions.
The ombudsman said that if the insurer required disclosure at any time over the duration of a policy, this had to be made clear so that it was understood by the customer. “We usually consider that such an obligation applies only if there has been a fundamental change in health, such as a heart attack or a diagnosis of cancer,” the spokesman said.
He said the ombudsman saw many cases where insurance claims were turned down on the grounds that the customer had not disclosed a medical condition. Such rejections are described as relating to “non‑disclosure”.
In a recent case, a woman whose father died of lung cancer just before a holiday had a claim rejected on the basis that she should have told the insurer that her father had been to the GP with a cough two months previously. The ombudsman ruled in the woman’s favour, because it decided she had no idea that the cough was so serious.
A spokesman for the Association of British Insurers said travel insurance policies “may require you to notify your insurer of any change in your health when you take out the policy and the date you depart the UK”. “If your health does deteriorate between booking and departure it does not mean that the insurer will decline the cover, but that they may need to charge an extra premium depending on the circumstances,” he said.
However, other major insurers said they did not have similar policies to Staysure and did not require a phone call from customers with annual travel policies every time they visited a GP. Paul Havenhand, head of insurance at the Post Office, said: “Our customers don’t need to contact us after every GP visit but they should inform us if their medical circumstances change. This will enable us to provide the correct level of cover, giving them peace of mind for their trip.”
Tom Bishop of Direct Line said: “We ask that our annual travel insurance customers update us if they are diagnosed with any heart, circulatory or breathing conditions, any type of cancer, any bone, joint or gastrointestinal conditions or diabetes.”
Don’t fall foul of your travel insurer
If you’ve been ill, or even if a family member at home is poorly, travel insurance can be more expensive. But if you don’t tell the insurer everything, you risk a claim being rejected.
Read the small print. It can be easy to assume you fit the blanket description of a healthy person. But even something as simple as carrying an asthma inhaler could mean the insurer doesn’t agree.
As a rule, if you suffered from something more than two years ago and it is completely resolved, the insurer shouldn’t need to know about it. However, if you are still taking medication, it is best to phone the insurer. Most have a helpline that will allow you to discuss any concerns.
If you can’t get regular insurance because of a medical condition, insurance brokers should “signpost” you towards an insurer who can help. Specialists such as AllClear are experts in insuring those with long-term illness, though you may find it easier to get a single-trip policy than an annual one.
Don’t accept rejection. If your insurer rejects a claim on the grounds of a pre-existing condition, you do not have to accept its decision. Make a complaint to your insurer first, and, if you still aren’t happy, it costs nothing to refer the matter to the Financial Ombudsman Service.