The cost of a break: Travel insurance and osteoporosis

26 Jun 2018

From the Osteoporosis News archives, Spring 2013. Osteoporosis News is the National Osteoporosis Society's magazine, just for members.

If you’re planning a summer holiday this year, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re covered by adequate travel insurance. But what kind of insurance is available to those with osteoporosis, and do you need it?

Taking a holiday should be an enjoyable experience, and it is for many of us. However, when things go wrong it can be stressful. For people with osteoporosis, the biggest concern is the possibility of breaking a bone.

Given the wide range of holidays available, buying the right one to suit your budget should be a straight-forward process. However, often so much time is spent planning and booking your dream package that travel insurance cover is added as an afterthought, which might mean that you do not get the best value cover.

So what can be done to ensure that you are properly insured without spending a small fortune?

Why do we need travel insurance?

There are many reasons why you should consider buying travel insurance, including cover for cancellation, medical expenses and repatriation, and lost and stolen possessions.

According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), not all travel-insurance policies are the same. It is really important to decide on the level of cover that you require and check that the policy you buy gives you the level of cover you are expecting.

Medical emergencies and repatriation are the most common and expensive reasons for travel claims, and also the most important reason for taking out cover, so it’s essential to know that any costs you incur following a medical emergency will be covered.

The limits of European Health Insurance Card cover

Many people assume that a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will cover the costs of treatment in European Union state hospitals and in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, but this is not quite true.

While it’s important to carry your EHIC card at all times, it will only provide the same benefits that residents of that country receive and will not cover repatriation. The level of benefit provided by the EHIC varies from country to country.

In some countries residents pay a percentage of any medical bills, so relying on the EHIC in those countries will result in a person paying the same percentage as a local resident. This may or may not cover the cost of board and lodging if you are admitted to hospital.

Foreign Office consular assistance will not pay your costs. It is also important to remember that neither the British Embassy nor High Commission will pay for any medical expenses or repatriation costs.

What does insurance cover?

The following advice and guidance is produced by the ABI. The first point to remember is that it is important to be sure that you have full cover for emergency medical costs and other associated costs. Medical emergencies that policies do cover include:

  • Unforeseen illness, injury or accident.
  • Repatriation to the UK where the time required to recover from the medical problem results in missing a booked flight home. This would also include the cost of stretcher, costs for a doctor or nurse to escort you home, and space on a chartered plane or air ambulance, if medically necessary. Remember, if you have an arm or leg in plaster, you may need an additional seat on a flight home, and that will add to the cost.
  • Temporary emergency dental treatment for the relief of immediate pain.
  • In the event of death, travel insurance covers the costs of burial or cremation abroad or bringing the body home. The insurer can also provide help and support in making all the necessary arrangements through an international funeral director.
  • Medical emergencies that might be covered include sports and activities classed as high risk. Some may be covered at no additional cost, some may only be covered when you pay an additional premium and others may not be covered at all.

Medical emergencies that policies do not cover include:

  • Claims relating to existing medical conditions that have not been declared and accepted by the insurer. Some policies operate on the basis of providing no cover for existing medical conditions. Other policies require you to contact a medical screening service to make a health declaration. An additional premium may be required to cover some medical conditions.
  • Medical costs arising from injuries sustained as a result of consuming alcohol or illegal drugs, behaving irresponsibly or taking unnecessary risks. You are on holiday, so drinking a reasonable amount of alcohol is not excluded.
  • Cover for medical bills if the policyholder chooses to stay abroad after the treating doctor agrees with the insurance company doctor that the policyholder is fit to return home.
  • Medical conditions connected to your failure to take your prescribed medication or get vaccinations and other preventative measures (such as malaria tablets) advised for the country being visited.

Buying insurance

A huge range of companies, websites, supermarkets, banks and brokers sell travel insurance and it is not easy to be sure which one to use. However, there are some key principles that can be followed to reduce the possibility of making a costly mistake.

  • Always declare a pre-existing condition such as osteoporosis. Being accurate and honest is important.
  • Use a reputable company or broker or contact the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) for help in finding a broker.
  • Consider buying your insurance from a specialist company as they often have a better understanding of how a condition affects a person. A specialist company will often deal with the actual risk based on your medical history. For instance, if you have not already suffered a fragility fracture and are therefore at lower risk, this should be reflected in your final premium.
  • Ask the person you are dealing with if the company is Financial Services Authority (FSA) registered and also about their level of training.
  • If a company is unable to insure you, do ask them to signpost you to one that can. In 2012 the insurance industry introduced a “signposting agreement” in return for being able to keep maximum age limits on policies. This means that if a company cannot insure you it should “signpost” you to an alternative provider.
  • Consider buying a policy that allows an excess payment (i.e. you would pay the first £100 on any claim) as this can reduce the final cost of the policy.
  • Ask the sales person to explain the terms and fees associated with the policy and what assistance is available if you need to make a claim. Be sure that you have a copy of these details in writing.
  • Read the small print and check that your policy covers you in the way you expect it to. Remember: if it does not you have 14 days in which you can cancel it.

Tips to remember

The cheapest price may also mean the least amount of cover. That is why it is important to check a policy meets your needs before you buy it and consider whether additional cover might be necessary.

You must tell your insurer your medical history. If you declare your existing medical conditions, your insurer will be able to confirm whether or not any claims relating to them can be covered. Cover may be free of charge or require payment of an additional premium. But, if you do not tell your insurer about an existing condition, they may not pay for medical treatment or the costs to get you home, and it will also invalidate your whole policy.

Act responsibly at all times. Going on holiday is the perfect time to relax and have fun, but you should never take unnecessary risks. Insurers do not cover drink or drug-related incidents, and leaving possessions (particularly valuable items) unattended will invalidate a claim.

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