Cancer victim charged £1,800 for travel cover – on a £2,400 holiday: ‘I was treated like a leper when trying to get worldwide insurance’
People with health problems face paying almost as much for travel insurance as they are shelling out for their entire holiday – after an exodus of big providers during the pandemic.
Among them is Helen Galer, who has been battling breast cancer for the past eight years. She has been told she must pay nearly £1,800 if she wants to be insured for a two-week holiday with family and friends later this year that is costing her £2,400. She says she feels as if she is being ‘treated like a leper’.
James Daley, managing director of consumer group Fairer Finance, says people like Helen are victims of a contraction in the travel insurance market brought about by the pandemic and travel restrictions.
Raring to go: Helen Galer, who works at a motorcycle shop, has been told by her oncologist that she is fit to travel
He adds: ‘Major players pulling out of the market have dramatically curbed the choice of cover available to those with health issues who want to travel abroad this year. Some are being refused cover while others – like Helen – are being charged exorbitant rates.’
Helen, 56, works as a part-time shop assistant at Stevelin Motorcycles in Ramsey, Cambridgeshire. Although the initial cancer was successfully treated, she was diagnosed with secondary cancer as it had spread to her liver and bones. She gets regular immunotherapy treatment and she says her condition is under control.
Despite her oncologist saying she is ‘fit and able to travel’, Helen says she ‘was treated like a leper’ when trying to get worldwide insurance cover for the tour this October with family and friends.
The holiday of a lifetime includes a trip to Niagara Falls in Canada followed by a luxury train journey to New York and then seven nights aboard Cunard’s flagship, the Queen Mary 2.
She had previously booked the same trip in 2020 before having to cancel due to the pandemic. At the time, she had worldwide annual travel insurance from Insurancewith that cost just £242.
But now – despite her health not having changed in the past two years – the only comparable worldwide annual cover she has been able to get is from AllClear Travel Insurance costing £1,774.
Helen says: ‘I enjoy my life to the full – so I find it grossly unfair when travel insurers seem to want to stop me in my tracks.
‘If it were not for my family and friends insisting that I share this fantastic trip with them, I would have seriously considered not going. Sadly, I may not be able to travel abroad again in the future – not due to health issues but simply because I cannot afford travel insurance.’
Insurancewith was part of Travel Insurance Facilities. But last July, this major provider of travel insurance stopped issuing new policies across its range of plans – including HolidaySafe, Flexicover and Alpha. It is currently being investigated by City regulator the Financial Conduct Authority in relation to ‘regulated activities, claims and complaints’. Spanish travel insurer Mapfre Asistencia also pulled the plug on the UK last year.
Among its travel cover brands was InsureandGo – which has since been taken over by insurer AllClear. Helen contacted Insurancewith last November to see if she could take out cover with it again. It was unable to provide her with a quote.
Alarm bells started ringing as a string of insurers – Avanti, PayingTooMuch, insurePink, Staysure, InsureCancer and even the Post Office – all said no to her.
Finally, she tried AllClear, the only company willing to offer her annual worldwide cover – albeit at seven times the cost of cover she took out two years ago.
The British Insurance Brokers’ Association says the travel insurance market has contracted in the past couple of years – and that premiums for those with health issues have risen.
It adds: ‘Unfortunately, when your health risk is deemed high this is reflected in higher premiums. But there should be no reason why specialist cover cannot be found for anyone who wishes to travel. As far as Helen is concerned, travel cover has been found.’
Irrespective of whether you are in remission from cancer or have received successful treatment, you must mention it on any application for travel cover.
Other serious health issues, such as a triple heart-bypass, will also limit choice and raise premiums. Even relatively minor conditions, such as high cholesterol levels, should be mentioned, otherwise a claim could be thrown out.
BIBA warns that you should never travel without being insured because a serious injury that requires treatment can end up costing hundreds of thousands of pounds. Guy Bellamy, chief executive of AllClear, says: ‘Our commitment is to ensure everyone has the right to travel and to do so safely – and for those with preexisting medical conditions our priority is to offer them the best possible cover for a dream holiday.’
For details of brokers that can help those with health issues, call 0370 950 1790 or visit biba.org.uk and click on the ‘travel medical insurance directory’ link.