Travelling with a pacemaker? Find out how to get your condition covered.
If you have suffered from irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) then you will be familiar with it's ability to cause fatigue, shortness of breath and in more serious cases even organ damage and death. Serious cases of arrhythmias may require a pacemaker to be fitted.
How can I get travel insurance cover if I have a pacemaker?
If you have had a pacemaker fitted, it’s possible to get travel insurance. However, you will need to:
- Declare your condition to your insurer
- In some cases, undergo a medical assessment. This may be in the form of a questionnaire, a medical exam or a doctor’s certificate.
- Pay the additional premium if necessary.
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A pacemaker is surgically implanted device used to control abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). It uses low energy electrical pulses to prompt the heart to beat at a regular rate and help arrhythmia sufferers lead a relatively normal life. The device is implanted in either the chest or the abdomen to regulate hearts that are beating too fast, slow or have an irregular pattern.
While it may be tempting to not mention your pacemaker in an attempt to avoid paying a higher premium, it is vital that you declare any pre-existing conditions. If you don’t and you suffer a medical incident related to your heart condition, your insurer will not cover you. This could leave you seriously out of pocket if you are hospitalised in a country such as Japan or the USA, where health costs are prohibitively expensive.
Before you declare your heart condition to your insurer, you should read the fine print in their product disclosure statement (PDS) to determine if your condition is covered. Travel insurers normally have three tiers when it comes to pre-existing conditions:
- Conditions that are automatically covered. Conditions that are automatically covered are generally not life threatening and include ailments such as asthma.
- Conditions that require a medical assessment. The conditions are generally more serious and include conditions such as heart arrhythmias.
- Conditions that will not be covered. These are conditions that are life threatening such as cancer and AIDs.
If it’s covered, but only under certain conditions, you will need to declare your condition when you apply for insurance and depending on the insurer either:
- Undergo a phone assessment
- Fill out an online questionnaire
- Fill out a hard copy declaration form, describing your condition, your treatment, any recent changes and length of time since treatment or hospitalisation
- Undergo a face-to-face medical assessment
If your condition is approved for cover, your insurer will then send you a written notice to this effect, including any conditions that apply to cover and any additional premiums payable.
Although it’s likely to help with your application for cover, insurers assess eligibility on a case-by-case basis.
Yes, you will need to declare
As with most pre-existing medical conditions, the length of time since you last had treatment for your condition is an important stage of the assessment process. Different insurers will have different criteria for how the period since the last treatment affects cover e.g. 12 months on policy A and 24 months on policy B.
Generally, if an insurer sees that your pacemaker was fitted some time ago, they are more likely to view your condition as lower risk because there haven’t been any aggravating circumstances.
Travelling with a pacemaker is generally safe. The two main concerns are electromagnetic interference and rough activity that could damage the device. Most issues can be avoided by observing the following tips:
- Visit your doctor before you travel to have your device tested and discuss any activities you have planned for your holiday.
- Make sure you have contact details for emergency overseas assistance should you require it.
- Make sure you know the pacemaker’s manufacturer, model and serial number.
- Find out the types of electromagnetic devices you should avoid close contact with, which should be detailed in your pacemaker’s operator manual.
- As your pacemaker may activate security screening apparatus, make sure you have a pacemaker ID card explaining your condition.
- Also show your ID card if you need medical treatment such as scans while travelling overseas.