News story

People over 55 risk huge medical bills by not taking out travel insurance

Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds warns of the dangers of not having comprehensive travel insurance.

You could be hit with a bill for many thousands of pounds for medical treatment if you are taken ill or injured while abroad. And yet one in ten over 55-year-olds admit that they do not always take out travel insurance before going on holiday - even though more than half say they suffer from a medical condition of some sort.

Research carried out by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office shows that a third of those who don’t always take out travel insurance choose not to because they are only going on a short break. Just over a quarter (27%) say it’s too expensive and nearly one in five (18%) believe they don’t need to as they are visiting family and friends. Many also say they don’t need a policy as they are covered by their bank.

Perhaps more concerning is the fact that one in five (20%) with a policy are willing to risk invalidating it by not declaring an existing condition because they are on medication which allows them to manage it. While 15 per cent admit that they wouldn’t update their policy at all if they developed a medical condition or were prescribed new drugs for an existing condition.

Every year, Foreign Office staff provide assistance to thousands of British nationals, including over-55-year-old travellers who have invalidated their policy or taken out the wrong cover.

Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds said:

It won’t happen to me’ or ‘I’ll be fine’ are risky assumptions to make when deciding whether or not to take out comprehensive travel insurance. Our consular staff around the world deal with thousands of cases each year that prove that things can and do go wrong. Being prepared can mean the difference between the holiday of a lifetime and a holiday from hell. Being unwell abroad is stressful enough without the added pressure of having to find thousands of pounds to pay for treatment.

We will do everything we can to support people who find themselves needing medical assistance or treatment abroad, but the Foreign Office cannot pay medical bills or fund medical repatriation back to the UK. Taking out a comprehensive policy and declaring any medical condition may be an added expense at the time but it’s a worthwhile investment compared to what you could end up paying if something goes wrong when you are on holiday.

According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the cost of medical treatment is often significantly underestimated by people travelling abroad. Information shared by the ABI reveals that a claim in the United States for blood pressure and cholesterol-related medical emergencies, such as heart attacks and strokes, could cost up to £100,000. When asked by the FCO to state which, if any, medical conditions they suffered from, the majority of respondents listed blood pressure and cholesterol.

A spokesperson for the ABI said:

Travel insurance is a must for all holidaymakers. Policies are widely available for people of all ages, but the insurance industry recognises that some older people need help finding cover. Under the Age Agreement which we developed with Government and the British Insurance Brokers’ Association, older people who are unable to find cover at the first firm they approach should be directed to an alternative provider who will be able to offer insurance or to a signposting service.

The FCO can: The FCO can’t:
Provide information about transferring money Get you better treatment in hospital than is given to local people
Give you a list of local doctors, lawyers, interpreters or funeral directors Pay any bills or give you money
Contact friends and family back home for you if you wish Make travel arrangements for you
Issue you with replacement travel documents  

Full details of how the Foreign Office can provide support to British nationals when things go wrong abroad are outlined in the publication, Support for British nationals abroad: A guide

Further Information

In 2011/12 the FCO provided consular assistance to 19,874 British Nationals abroad, 3,739 of these cases involved the hospitalisation of a British national. Further details can be found in the British Behaviour Abroad Report 2012

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