Put the “Serious” Back in Travel Insurance

Where is the logic? Some people will take two or three trips to an appliance store before deciding on a new flat-screen TV costing them over $1,000; they will grill the salesperson about the pros and cons of this set or that; and they’ll scour the fine print details to make sure their purchase meets their specific needs.

Yet when purchasing a long-term travel insurance policy, without which they might lose their life savings, they’re OK to do the purchase over the phone or online in three minutes, and don’t think twice about throwing the policy in a drawer unread after receiving it from their agent.

According to a recent survey of Canadian travellers done by a trade group representing travel insurers, less than half (48 per cent) of respondents said they normally check their travel insurance coverage before taking their trips; 35 per cent admitted being unsure what their policy actually covered; and only 28 per cent ever reviewed their policy with their physician when applying.

The survey also revealed that many Canadian travellers still don’t have a clear picture of how limited their provincial health insurance coverage really is when travelling out of the country, and what their risks of going uninsured or underinsured really are. Only 34 per cent of respondents understood that their government plan would pay less than 10 per cent of their emergency medical costs, and more than 15 per cent actually believed their government health plan would cover between 75 and 100 per cent of out-of- country medical costs.

These results clearly show that those who advise their clients and sell them travel insurance have a lot of educating to do, especially as policies become more comprehensive and are designed to cover more people in less-than-perfect health.

We don’t need more surveys showing us how dependent many customers have become on making travel insurance arrangements online, by phone, even through social media—the emphasis being on simplicity and speed, decisions made by a single click—no need for cumbersome details or delving through complicated language.

Simplicity makes everybody happy. But let’s face it: misunderstanding conditions of coverage, or failing to fully and accurately complete medical underwriting applications, can be ruinously costly. Tailoring coverage for otherwise healthy people with pre-existing conditions takes deliberation and care. And the consequences of not doing it right can be catastrophic for clients who are taken ill while thousands of miles from home.

Professionals who sell travel insurance are in the perfect (and perhaps the only) position to intercede with their clients and educate them on the need to take their time, and to read certain parts of the policy. (Nobody is going to read 46 pages of fine print—but they can read some sections, and sellers can show them which ones are the most important.)

Medical underwriting applications—even those with clearly crafted questions and definitions—can appear daunting. But they are necessary, and as the survey referred to earlier showed, only 28 per cent of respondents ever asked their physician for help in looking over their policy.

Technology has given us miraculous aid in digging out information quickly and in some depth. But in tailoring travel insurance policies to the specific needs of individuals—of different age groups, health profiles, or tolerance for risk—there is still need for wise consideration and counsel.

Travel professionals need to emphasize to their clients that travel insurance is serious business and sometimes needs more attention than the click of a thumb.

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