Find travel insurance for overseas medical emergencies or if you have a pre-existing condition
Getting seriously ill or injured overseas can be an expensive ordeal. The cost of receiving emergency transportation to local facilities or back home or to receive treatment can quickly run into the tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Did you know the daily cost to stay in hospital in the United States is as much as $750? And that's before you even receive any treatment...
Medical travel insurance provides cover for:
- Emergency medical and hospital expenses including hospital stay, surgery, dental treatment and nursing
- 24 hour emergency assistance including ambulance fees, medical evacuations and hospital guarantees
If you have a pre-existing medical condition, it is still possible to take out travel insurance but there may be some exclusions applied for certain conditions. Read on to learn more about how medical travel insurance works and how you can get cover for your condition.
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Interesting points about Medical Travel Insurance
- What exactly does medical travel insurance cover?
- Travel insurance and pre-existing conditions in Australia
What exactly does medical travel insurance cover?
Travel insurance can provide cover for a whole range of medical expenses that you may face while overseas including:
- Visits to a local doctor or other certified medical practitioner approved by the provider
- Emergency evacuation to the closest medical facility. This may be transport by air or road.
- Admission and treatment in a medical facility
- Prescribed medication for serious illness or injury suffered while travelling
- Prescribed physiotherapy for injuries suffered while travelling
- Additional out of pocket expenses if you are admitted to a hospital
- Repatriation back home to Australia
- Additional expenses for your travel partner or relative to stay with your while you are admitted to a hospital overseas
How does travel insurance and pre-existing conditions work in Australia?
In the past, it was common for people with pre-existing medical conditions to be denied medical travel insurance, as they were too great a risk for the insurer. However, with such intense competition in the insurance industry today, people that may have been denied cover can now find a cover for a reasonable price.
What exactly is a pre-existing medical condition in travel insurance?
Definitions of what is a pre-existing medical condition vary between insurers, so it is always worth checking prior to application. However, a pre-existing condition is generally defined as:
- An ongoing medical or dental condition you knew about prior to applying for cover
- A medical or dental condition that is currently being investigated by an approved medical practitioner
- A condition for which you take prescribed medication
- A condition which has required surgery
- A condition that you receive ongoing treatment for from a medical practitioner
This definition is not only relevant to you as the policyholder but any other people that are listed on your medical travel insurance such as your spouse or dependent children.
How will my pre-existing medical condition be assessed?
Depending on your condition, an insurer will take one of four steps during the application process:
- Automatically accept you for cover
- Refuse your application
- Exclude claims related to the condition from cover under the policy
- Apply a premium loading to account for the additional risk
If my pre-existing condition is not covered can I still get cover?
Yes. It is still possible to take out cover for other losses but you will not be covered for any medical expenses incurred that are related or attributed to your pre-existing condition. This includes expenses incurred for hospitalisation, emergency evacuation and emergency medical assistance.
What if my condition is not listed?
If your condition is not listed under the automatically covered or automatically excluded groups, you may be able to receive cover for the condition by paying an additional premium. If you do not pay the additional premium for the cover, you will not be covered for any claims arising from or that can be attributed to your condition.
Dengue fever in downtown Bali
Four days late on the island of Sumbawa, I woke up with a fever, headache (behind my eyes), and muscle and joint pain. It was unlike anything I'd experienced before. Within hours I had broken out in a red rash.
To relieve the pain I drank water and took paracetamol and Ibuprofen (I was later informed that Ibuprofen should be avoided as it can aggravate bleeding).
I called home and was given told to get on a flight back to Kuta and check into the hospital. Which I did. Once in hospital my blood test came back as positive for Dengue fever.
My medical travel insurance representative got in touch with the Bali International Medical Centre and the overall support from both parties was amazing. I had an Australian nurse I could contact at any time and the insurance company arranged to have mum fly over if needed.
I was surprised how many other Australian tourists were in the hospital for Dengue Fever during my stay. My platelet count was extremely low and there was a high danger of internal bleeding so I remained in hospital for five days.
After 14 days, the hospital gave me the all clear to fly and I travelled home.
Can I get cover for cancer?
Yes, some insurers do provide cover for those who have suffered from cancer. However, the ways that insurers treat cancer varies. Below is an example of how some Australian travel insurers treat cancer:
- Covermore, Travel Insuranz, Virgin, Woolworths, YouGo and Medibank Private. You can get cancer cover through these insurers if your diagnosis took place at least six months ago, and you have not gone through radiation or chemotherapy in the preceding six months. In addition, you will receive cover for no more than a six months trip period. Both offer cover for skin, breast, colon, bowel, kidney, and prostate cancer, provided your Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) is 10 or less.
- AAMI, Citibank. You can get medical travel insurance if you have prostate or breast cancer as long as your diagnosis took place at least 12 months ago. It covers prostate cancer only if your PSA is 3.0 or less, and it does not cover secondary cancers.
- Priceline. Priceline offers travel over for prostate cancer patients in cases when PSA. is 3.0 or less.
- Budget Direct, EasyTravelInsurance, InsureandGo, Tick Travel Insurance, Travel Insurance Saver. Will provide cover. However no cover claims if you had treatment or hospital tests for cancer in the last five years.
Can I get travel insurance with a heart condition?
Travel insurers consider all heart conditions as high risk factors, and many conditions related to the heart tend to find automatic exclusions from medical travel insurance policies. The good news is it is possible to get cover even with a pre-existing heart condition through different insurance providers, but they would expect the following.
- A medical assessment
- No instances of heart trouble in the last five years as per your medical history
- Lower cover limits and higher premiums
Can I get travel insurance for pregnancy?
Getting medical travel insurance in the early stages of pregnancy is relatively simple. While there are some exclusions for things such as previous complications, multiple pregnancies and medically assisted pregnancies, most insurers offer cover up until around the 26th week of pregnancy.
There are insurers that offer cover for those between 26 and 32 weeks, those having multiple pregnancies and those who have undergone IVF treatment.
To find out how the insurers in our panel treat travel insurance for pregnant women, you can follow the link below.
Can I get travel insurance for diabetes
To get travel insurance while suffering from Type I or Type II diabetes, you will, in all likelihood, have to meet the following conditions:
- You are less than 50 years of age
- Your diagnosis took place at least 12 months ago
- You don’t have eye, nerve, vascular, and kidney complications
- You don’t suffer from hypercholesterolaemia, hypertension, or a known cardiovascular disease
Australians heading to countries like India, Thailand, and Singapore for elective surgeries is common. However, most medical travel insurance policies do not provide cover for complications arising from elective procedures.
While there are insurers out there who offer cover to those heading abroad for surgery, the list is sparse. You're more likely to find a provider that will give you a policy that covers things like cancellation and delays but excludes any complications arising from your surgery.
Medical tourism and travel insurance
Travelling overseas to avail of cheap medical treatment is gaining popularity in many developed countries, Australia included. While the cosmetic enhancement business is now around a billion dollars a year business in Australia, data suggests that around 15,000 Australians head overseas each year and spend around $300 million on cosmetic surgery tourism alone.
Globally, the medical tourism industry is worth more than $100 billion, and it’s growing at a rate of around 20% to 30% in Australia. Insurance providers in Australia seem to have finally woken up to this fact, and you can now find an option or two. NIB, for instance, offers patients a 12 months guarantee on foreign surgery as long as they stick to approved Thai hospitals and doctors. GoInsurance now offers Dental Tourism Insurance that provides cover to deal with different circumstances that may arise owing to the treatment.
Travel insurance and overseas dental work
The price of elective dental treatment in Australia can be prohibitive to many, and this is probably why the promise of getting cheaper and equally good treatment gets a number of Australians to look overseas. Getting medical travel insurance that covers complications that are the result of dental treatment is not particularly easy, and as of now only Go Insurance provides a suitable cover.
Go Insurance’s Dental Tourism Insurance policy, underwritten by Lloyd’s of London, provides cover in the following scenarios.
- Trip cancellation. You can look forward to cover if your procedure does not proceed as per plan, and you have to reschedule or cancel.
- Emergency overseas dental treatment. If the original procedure results in complications and you need emergency post procedure treatment, this insurance policy provides suitable cover.
- Additional transport and accommodation. Complications might require you to extend your stay, and in such a scenario you can get cover for additional costs incurred in accommodation and travel.
- Return travel and accommodation for remedial dental treatment.You’ll get cover if you have to return overseas for remedial treatment.
Group travel insurance for pre-existing medical conditions
It's quite common for people to take out group travel insurance policies to provide cover for up to 10 or more friends, co-workers or teammates. While there is only one certificate of insurance for group policies, cover is still provided to each member of the group as if they were to have their own policy.
When taking out cover, the applicant that is applying for the cover for the group will be asked if any member of the group has any pre-existing medical conditions. In the event that one member does have a pre-existing condition that is not automatically covered under the policy, they may be required to take out their own separate policy. It may be possible to still purchase group cover if the condition is not listed though an additional premium may be incurred.
Are other people on my travel insurance policy covered for pre-existing medical conditions?
Generally, the insurance company will not provide a benefit payment for claims arising from pre-existing medical conditions that are automatically covered other than for those that are named on the insurance policy. Cover for pre-existing conditions can be provided to your spouse and/or dependent children/grandchildren.
Can I get medical only travel insurance?
If you are only interested in taking out cover for medical related losses, many insurers will offer basic policies with a reduced range of benefits for a lower premium rate. This can be a good option for those that may have other forms of cover in place and just need to make sure they are looked after for medical events overseas. As an example, One Cover’s Basic Overseas Travel Insurance Policy will only provide cover for the following events:
Overseas emergency medical assistance: Cover for emergency medical treatment while you are travelling overseas. This may include:
- 24 hour emergency medical assistance
- Ambulance fees
- Medical evacuations
- Funeral arrangements
- Messages to loved ones
- Overseas medical and hospital expenses: Cover for treatment overseas including medical, surgical, dental and nursing.
- Personal liability: Provides cover for legal expenses incurred following injury to another person or damage to another persons property.
It is never worth neglecting taking out cover you actually require just to save on your policy. Anyone considering a basic level of cover must make the right assessments of their own situation to ensure that they are comfortable with the amount of cover they will actually receive.
- Have you spoken with a medical adviser? If you are sick or injured, don't leave anything, and seek medical assistance immediately.
- Have you called your travel insurer? This should be your first point of contact after the relevant local authorities if you have suffered a medical event. Not only will they be able to put you in touch with local medical providers, this will also ensure you don't have to pay out-of-pocket.
- Have you called your family and friends? Make sure you keep your family and friends appraised of your situation. They may be able to deal with your doctors or the insurer should you be unable to.
- Have you contacted your consular services? In some cases you may want to get in touch with the consular services if you have exhausted other avenues of assistance.
If you receive medical treatment when overseas and wish to file a claim, while claim processes can vary from one insurer to the next, the basics remains the same. When filing your medical travel insurance claim, you'll need to provide the following:
- A medical certificate that states your receiving treatment for a given illness or injury
- Receipts proving you’ve paid for treatment
Contacting your insurance provider upon hospitalisation is a good idea, as it can then communicate with the medical facility and authorise payment.
In case of hospitalisation, contacting your insurance provider can be necessary if you wish to claim for expenses towards airfare or evacuation. It’s important to note that your medical travel insurance might not cover medical and hospital costs that you incur in Australia.
Interview: USA Overseas Medical Claim
finder.com.au user Helen Summers offers her medical travel insurance tale from a previous trip to America
Q. What was the event that lead to the claim?
- A. The incident that lead to making a claim was a serious bladder infection whereby there was a loss of blood. I was on holidays in the USA for 3 months, this occurred a week prior to my departure home to Sydney.
Q. What treatment did you need to receive?
- A. After ringing 5 doctor surgeries, and being declined by 4 surgeries, as they were not taking new patients, even after informing them I had insurance and could pay to see the doctor, I was fortunate that I came across a surgery where the doctor was educated in Oxford, an Indian born doctor who decided to see me.
Q. Were you happy with the treatment/service you received at the medical facility?
- A. I saw the doctor who informed me that he would write me a prescription for antibiotics, however, if the bleeding in the urine did not cease, to go to the Emergency Room. The blood did not cease and I found myself at a hospital emergency room. In the meantime, I telephoned my doctor in Sydney to who informed me to get the emergency room doctor to subscribe me sulphur based antibiotics. I informed the doctor, however, he ran me through a series of tests. Urine Samples, blood pressure, being weighted.
Q. What was the total cost of the treatment?
- A. The initial consultation with the doctor who I first saw was $150 USD. The tests I had amounted to $3000 USD. Of this, I paid $150 from my our pocket. I contacted my insurer NRMA when this occurred. They guaranteed the payment of the bills but advised me I had to pay the initial access of $150.
Q. How did you find the claims process? Did you experience any complications?
- A. I have nothing but gratitude to the NRMA and the staff that contacted me daily to see how I was progressing, to allay my fears that payment would be made to the hospital and they would pick up the bill for the medication, which were sulphur based antibiotics as my Sydney doctor indicated I needed.
Q. Were you satisfied with the support you received from the insurance provider?
- A. The insurer was magnificent. As I was nearing my end of my stay, I would have had issues with my visitors visa as I would of overstayed the three months permitted. I also had my daughters with me, aged 9 and 5 and they informed me that should I find myself in a situation where I had to overstay my tourist visa, they would assist me and send me the necessary forms, contact details. In regard to the medical bills, everything was paid for. I was only out of pocket the initial $150.
Q. Can you recall what expenses the insurance covered?
- A. Insurance paid the initial doctor I saw. They paid for my medications, they paid for all the tests and the doctors, technicians that performed them. In total that was $3000 USD.
Q. Did you cover the expenses up front or did the insurer cover these?
- A. The insurer made arrangements with the doctor and the hospital to have all the bills forwarded them for payment.
Q. Did your experience impact your opinion of travel insurance and what cover is required?
- A. I come from a family that always travelled. The one thing that was always drummed into me was you buy your ticket, then you buy your travel insurance. You also look at the various policies as they are not the same, and cheap isn’t necessarily the best.
Q. What travel insurance tips do you have for anyone looking to head away on their next trip?
- Look for a reputable travel insurance company or is underwritten by a large company that you have heard of and don’t buy cheap as it may not cover you for all conditions.
- If you are sporting person and into activities, make sure you cover yourself for those activities and not buy the standard policy.
- Look at your insurer for your home, car etc as they always offer discounts if you are a member.
- If you can’t afford travel insurance, don’t go anywhere, its not worth it and you could find yourself with a bill the size of a home.
- Travel with the name of your doctor and contact details, or medical centre.
- Make up a card and place it in your passport with your blood group, contact details and any existing medical conditions.
- This was drummed to me as a late teen and I have always travelled with this information.
- Lastly, make sure you complete Smartraveller so people know your movements or where you will be incase of an emergency and always get the number of your embassy and consulate should you run into any trouble, medically or natural disaster.
Find travel insurance policies with cover for medical related losses
It is critical that anyone considering taking out travel insurance takes the time to actually read through the product disclosure statement so that they are aware of any particular exclusions that may be relevant to their situation. This is especially important when it comes to pre-existing medical conditions as the terms can vary quite significantly between different providers on how they will cover certain conditions. If you are ever unsure whether a condition you have or have previously had will be covered under the policy, it is always best to contact your insurer to clarify prior to purchasing your cover.
Picture: Mats Hagwall, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (image cropped)