Are Travel Insurers Asking Too Many Questions?

Under the headline “
Common Cold Could Void Travel (Insurance) Cover,” a report in Britain’s The Telegraph warns that some travel insurers in the UK are demanding more medical information than ever, especially from older travellers, driving fears that more applicants could be denied coverage, their premiums could rise, or both.

The newspaper reports that Staysure, a travel insurance company that specializes in travellers over 50, has recently emailed all policyholders to “declare any condition [they] have suffered from or visited a doctor with, no matter how minor (i.e. a cold) just to make sure [they] are fully covered.”

In the UK, annual travel insurance policies covering 365 days are popular because they are considerably cheaper than single trip plans bought several times each year. In effect, they are similar to annual plans sold in Canada that allow you any number of out-of-province trips of a designated duration throughout the year (e.g., 7, 15, 30, 45, 60 days or other denominations—depending on what the insurer has to offer). You apply once, pay once, and are not required to tell the insurer when you travel.

Most Canadian annual plans require you to return to your home province for as little as a day before starting out on another trip, while others require a 72-hour return stay in your home province. Some are not very clear in their wording so make sure you know what the requirements are in your specific policy. And if you need more coverage for any of your trips, you may call your insurer and buy a top-up. That costs extra.

In Canada, as in the UK, annual plans are increasingly popular as travellers over 50 are becoming more adventuresome, travelling more often, and doing more “spur of the moment” trips.

But, there some pitfalls you need to be aware of—as British travellers are finding out. Buying an annual plan does not guarantee you coverage for the full year if your health status changes and you become a higher risk client. That’s why some insurers are asking clients to call in and report changes to their health.

Canadian insurers also have varying requirements you should be aware of if your health status changes or if you generate a claim during your covered year. Some specifically state that if you have any material change in your health, including a change in your medication during the covered period, you must notify them to ensure that you remain eligible for insurance. Some state that if your health changes or you have a medical condition that requires emergency treatment during one of your covered trips, your eligibility will not be affected, but that condition will be classed as a pre-existing condition and will be excluded from further coverage. These conditions and limitations are not standardized, so you need to read your policy and/or discuss this “fine print” with your agent.

Fortunately, Canadian insurers are not yet requiring you to call in any time you get the sniffles, a common cold, or the flu—as it appears some British insurers are. Most Canadian policies specify that you must notify them if your health undergoes a material change after purchasing a policy but prior to the effective date, although the word “material” doesn’t always mean the same thing to all people.

To play it safe: Notify your insurer or travel insurance agent about any health issue that doesn’t cure itself in a few days, or for which you have to consult your doctor. And read your policy wording to understand what changes you are required to report to your insurer. Possibly, if your illness is transient or minor, it won’t change your coverage under an existing plan. But by reporting a change in health, you can be confident your coverage is intact.

All travel insurers advertising on this site meet Travel Insurance File’s acceptability criteria for out-of-country health benefits for Canadian residents. Some also provide plans for international students, expatriates, and employees posted abroad. Speak with representatives of these plans, explore their products online, ask questions about limitations and exclusions, and once you get the right answers, buy right online.

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