Conditions for getting travel insurance as a cancer patient
It’s estimated that one in every two Australian men and one in every three Australian women will develop some form of cancer before reaching the age of 85. And yet, with cancer so prolific in our society, it remains very difficult for those with cancer to obtain travel insurance.
This guide looks at the circumstances in which some insurers will provide cover for cancer and highlights the importance of declaring your condition upfront for any chance of obtaining cover when you travel.
Can I get travel insurance if I have had cancer?
Yes. You can get cover for most travel insurance benefits including theft, cancellations, missed connections and lost luggage. You can also find medical cover for sudden or unforeseen medical expenses. However, you'll have a tough time finding travel insurance for cancer patients for medical claims that are related to a pre-existing cancer.
What travel insurance conditions do cancer sufferers need to know about?
When will travel insurers cover cancer?
Some insurers cover certain types of cancer but it is conditional upon:
- A medical assessment that determines you are fit to travel
- Whether you are in remission and how long that has been the case (6 to 12 months is often a minimum requirement)
- Whether you are currently receiving treatment (in which case cover will usually not be provided)
If you’re able to get cover, you will pay a higher premium due to the greater risk to the insurer.
Medical questionnaire to review treatment being received
If you have a preexisting medical condition, you'll need to complete a medical questionnaire to find out if you're eligible for travel insurance. These questions include:
- Do you require kidney dialysis?
- Have you been advised by a physician not to travel at this time?
- Have you ever had a bone marrow or organ transplant?
- Have you had a heart bypass, angioplasty or heart valve surgery more than 10 years ago?
- Have you received chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy and/or other treatment for cancer in the last six months?
- In the last five years, have you been diagnosed with and/or had treatment for metastatic cancer?
- In the last four months, have you been prescribed or taken six or more prescription medications?
- In the last 12 months, have you been prescribed or taken prednisone or oxygen or been hospitalised for a lung condition?
- In the last 12 months, have you been hospitalised for a heart condition?
- In the last two years, have you had congestive heart failure?
Do I need to declare my condition?
If you have had cancer at any time in your life, it is considered a pre-existing medical condition and you must declare it to your insurer. If you don’t and you are hospitalised, forced to evacuate or have to cancel your trip as a result of your cancer, your insurer will not pay out on your claim.
Margaret's medical mishap
Margaret’s sister had cancer, so Margaret had herself tested to determine whether she was genetically predisposed to developing cancer herself. The result was positive, but Margaret continued to remain cancer-free over several years.
When she went to the USA to visit her elderly mother, she developed a cancerous growth on her bowel, which required her to be admitted to an American hospital, where she spent several months having treatment. The hospital bill was nearly $139,000, but when Margaret tried to claim it on her travel insurance, she was informed she was not covered.
Even though her cancer was not a pre-existing medical condition, because she did not declare the positive result of her genetic test at the time of taking out her policy, she was not covered. The reason was because if the insurer had known of her result at the time, they would either not have covered her or would have charged her a higher premium for cover. Margaret was forced to sell her home to pay her US medical bill.
How do I disclose the medical condition?
Insurers generally include a list of pre-existing conditions they automatically cover in their Product Disclosure Statement, but cancer is usually not one of them, so you must apply for special cover if it is available.
You must disclose your cancer to your insurer at the time of applying for your policy and they will usually require you to complete a medical assessment form and authorise your doctor to provide details of your condition and treatment. Your doctor may also be asked whether they consider you fit to travel without requiring additional medical treatment for your condition.
Whether your insurer provides cover will depend on your current health status, the length of time since you were treated and the degree of risk the insurer considers you pose.
In the best case scenario, they will provide cover at a higher premium. Alternatively, you will only be offered cover for non-cancer related travel risks.
Do I need to declare if I have had surgery for the condition?
A pre-existing medical condition is normally defined by insurers as:
- A condition or symptoms of a condition that you are aware of
- A condition for which you are currently receiving treatment or have received treatment for in the past
- A condition that you are treating with prescribed medication
- A condition for which you have previously had surgery
Therefore, the answer to the question "Do I need to declare if I have had surgery for cancer?: is clearly "yes", as by definition, it is a pre-existing medical condition and if not on the insurer’s list of covered pre-existing conditions, must be declared to receive cover.
Tips for travelling with cancer-related medical conditions
Cancer treatments can compromise your immune system, so you will need to take special precautions when travelling. These include:
- Keeping your medication close by (in your carry-on luggage, not under the plane)
- Carrying a letter from your doctor detailing your condition
- Practising good hygiene including regularly washing hands and only drinking bottled water
- Being sun smart, as chemotherapy and radiation makes you more sensitive to UV rays
- Ensuring plenty of down time between activities, as you will feel fatigued more often
Exclusions: when won’t you be covered
While some insurers will cover certain types of pre-existing conditions such as some forms of cancer, there are a handful of exclusions common to all insurers where no cover is available. These include:
- A condition for which surgery is planned
- A condition awaiting diagnosis or specialist opinion
- A condition requiring hospitalisation in the past two years
- A condition requiring spinal or brain surgery
- A condition causing seizures in the past 12 months
- A recurring pain needing regular medication or treatment
- A condition requiring regular immunosuppressive therapy such as arthritis
- HIV infection
- Mental illness
- Alcohol or drug addiction
- Dementia, depression, anxiety or stress
- Heart or cardiovascular disease
- Chronic lung disease
- Organ transplants
Compare your travel insurance options
Obtaining travel insurance for a pre-existing condition such as cancer is clearly not easy. But as this guide shows, there are circumstances where you can find cover. The best way to go about it is to declare your condition upfront and to shop around to find the insurer most sympathetic to your needs.
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