How do gallstones or gallbladder removal affect travel insurance?
Gallstones is a medical condition where the gallbladder forms stones inside the body. Most people with gallstones never experience any symptoms, but for those who do, symptoms may include pain and organ inflammation with other resulting effects. Treatment for gallstones can include surgery in the form of removing the gallbladder entirely, or an extensive medication regime, sometimes lasting years, to dissolve the stones.
If you have gallstones, have had your gallbladder removed or are currently taking medication for gallstones, then you have a pre-existing condition and will need to pay special attention to this when comparing travel insurance policies.
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Travel insurance brands do not typically refer to gallstones specifically, and instead refer to it more generally as a pre-existing condition.
If you have gallstones or have at any point in the past had gallstones, then you have a pre-existing medical condition and need to let your insurer know, even if you have never experienced related symptoms or undergone any treatment.
If you’re one of the many people who has gallstones but doesn’t know about it, then it does not count as a pre-existing condition. An insurer’s definition of gallstones or related pre-existing health issues may include:
- Prior gallbladder removal surgery
- If you are currently or have previously taken gallstone medication
- If you are aware that you have gallstones
- If you are not aware that you have gallstones, but have been experiencing symptoms that would have made anyone else seek medical attention.
- If you have recently (within the last 6 months to a year) seen a medical professional for gallstone or gallbladder-related health issues
- If you have recently experienced any gallstone attacks
Insurers have different ways of covering pre-existing conditions based on how dangerous they are.
- Do cover: Some of the milder or more easily managed conditions, such as asthma or acne, are typically listed as exceptions to the pre-existing conditions rule.
- Do not cover: Some of the more consistently dangerous conditions, such as certain heart diseases, are usually listed as severe pre-existing conditions and might never be covered.
- Sometimes cover: The third category is for conditions that can either be serious or near-harmless depending on the circumstances, and will need to be assessed in more detail, usually with a questionnaire or other assessment. Gallstones and gallbladder removal surgery typically fall into this category because they can affect everyone differently.
If you’ve already taken out a policy and realised that you forgot to mention gallstones as a pre-existing condition, the simplest and most straightforward way to rectify the situation might be to call your insurer and ask their customer service representative what you need to do.
However, when taking out a new policy, you will typically need to fill out a questionnaire which will include a medical section for disclosing pre-existing conditions. You may need to provide details on:
- Current and previous symptoms
- Past treatments
- Any current or previous medication
- Any recent surgery
- Other relevant information
You should have the means and the opportunity to disclose the condition to your insurer before taking out a policy. If you’re about to sign on the dotted line and your insurer does not know about your gallstones, then something has gone wrong.
- Know your symptoms. If you’re travelling, make sure you’re familiar with your gallstone symptoms. Changes in diet can exacerbate symptoms or severity, and knowing your symptoms lets you monitor them for warning signs.
- Tell the airline. Depending on your symptoms, medication and painkillers might be a necessity. If you’ve forgotten, or packed them in your checked baggage, don’t be afraid to ask the cabin crew if they can help.
- Plan for medication. Make sure you have plans for refills if needed when overseas. Some travel insurance policies may cover this. It’s also advisable to pack some extra just in case, and if you’re crossing different timezones, consult your doctor on how to adjust your medication schedule.
- Mind your diet. Travel often means changing diets and encountering different food ingredients. Different people might experience gallstone attacks after eating different foods, and it can be hard to tell what the ingredients are in each dish overseas. Water and fresh fruit can be safe and consistent choices for snacking.
- See your doctor first. Consult your doctor for more personalised advice on travelling with gallstones. They might prescribe extra medication in case of a flare-up and can help you in other ways.
All travel insurance policies contain exclusions, both general and specific. Pre-existing conditions, for example, are an exclusion in that they are typically not covered in any way unless you have raised it with your insurer. Find more general exclusions here, but pay special attention to medical and gallstone-related exclusions, including:
- No cover if you fail to follow medical advice. If your doctor advises you not to travel, then you may void your policy by failing to follow that advice
- No cover if you fail to follow medical advice provided by the insurer’s medical practitioner
- No cover if you withhold relevant information or otherwise breach your duty of disclosure
Gallstones or gallbladder removal surgery doesn’t have to get in the way of your travel plans. They’re a pre-existing condition, and by taking charge of it and proactively raising the issue with your insurer, you can still find effective travel insurance cover.
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