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Travel Insurance Tips

August 27th, 2010

If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel

..Department of Foreign Affairs, Australian Government

Even if you have insurance, you need to be aware of loopholes. Insurers are expert at finding loopholes so they don’t have to pay your claim. Insurance companies take in a lot more money than they pay out – that is their job. A loophole is a weakness or exception that allows a system, such as a law or security, to be circumvented or otherwise avoided.

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Travel Insurance Tips Summary

  • Read the policy
  • Travel insurance doesn’t just pay the bills, they are assistance companies, i.e. organize evacuations, and find doctors when you cannot.
  • Don’t buy the first policy you are offered. Research with Google; cover and cost can vary enormously
  • Check if insurers consider you have a pre – existing condition
  • Accidents while under the influence of drugs or alcohol may not be covered.
  • Adventure activities, even riding a motor bike may void your cover.
  • Double check the dates on your policy – know what happens if you stay longer, or your party comes home at different times
  • Document proof of ownership any valuables you take
  • Know the ‘hotline’ to your insurance provider.
  • Read the policy

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Comprehensive travel insurance should cover all medical expenses for injury or illness, theft of valuables, baggage damage and interruptions to flight plans. Certainly it is cheering if you can replace your camera if it is lost, but the serious money is in medical expenses. If you become sick or get injured, you can face a bill of hundreds of thousands of dollars. No more travel for many years!

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If you have been in perfect health for your entire life, it is easy. However most of us have had a few medical hiccups along life’s journey. Once of the big loopholes that insurers use is pre existing medical conditions. The scary thing is you might have a pre-existing medical condition and not even realise it: 18 months ago you were knocked out in a car accident, had amnesia for a week, and now are completely better – that’s old news …wrong.

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The following are deemed pre – existing conditions…

  • An ongoing medical or dental condition of which you are aware, or related complication you have, or the symptoms of which you are aware;
  • A medical or dental condition that is currently being, or has been investigated, or treated by a health professional (including dentist or chiropractor) within the last 60 days;
  • Any condition for which you take prescribed medicine;
  • Any condition for which you have had surgery;
  • Any condition for which you see a medical specialist;
  • Pregnancy
  • A year of birth before 1950

Google is a great way to find economical travel insurance…However, you do need to read the policy, they used to call it the fine print. Thankfully these days legislation requires it to be in normal sized print.

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Not All Travel insurance Policies cover pre-existing medical conditions.

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Some pre existing conditions may be automatically covered by some companies, eg asthma with no other chest problems. epilepsy if you have not had a fit for 5 years. Some insurers completely exclude any pre existing conditions, such as Backpacker, Budget, Cancellation and Non Resident/Visitor to Australia policies.

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Most insurers require you to complete a form if you have a pre-existing medical condition. Sometimes your doctor has to fill out forms, and a nameless bureaucrat decides if they will cover your condition, charge extra to cover your condition or sometimes completely refuse to cover your condition.

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Every insurer has different rules. Eg one patient seeking insurance described two different insurance companies; one company would cover condition A but not B, and the other company would cover condition B but not A.

Some insurers even require completion of pre-existing medical forms for any relative who is NOT even travelling with you, but who has a condition and you wish to be covered in case something happens to them and you are required to disrupt your journey. For example if your parent is very sick and you might have to come home if they have to be hospitalized etc.

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Sometimes person over a certain age can only access limited cover.

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All travel insurance policies are governed by the insurance contracts act and the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). If customers are dissatisfied with the cover granted to them under their insurance policy when they make an application for pre- existing cover, they can pursue the internal dispute process of their individual insurance company, and if they remain dissatisfied, they can contact the FOS.

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Sometimes people forget to buy insurance. This is a greater problem in recent times, as many travelers book their trips over the internet, and don’t have a friendly travel agent reminding them of such detail. I once had to buy insurance at the airport as I had been very busy and it was a work trip, and insurance had just slipped my mind. I arrived at he airport and suddenly realized my mistake. Now I have a yearly policy for all my trips so I don’t risk forgetting.

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Travelling without insurance is not just expensive, it can mean you don’t get the treatment you need. I had a patient who travelled without insurance, had an accident, and needed evacuation. The evacuation companies would not touch the case. This caused a great deal of stress and cost to the family who had to organise medical attention to stabilize the problem, and then bringing their daughter safely back to Australia on a stretcher, with a medical attendant.

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Double check the dates on your policy, I had a patient whose travel insurance ran out a few days before he was due to come home. He was in Thailand, and the day after his insurance expired he was crossing a road, and was hit by a bus. He suffered an open fracture of his leg and could not come home for many weeks as he had to stay and get it treated over there; moreover, he could not change his flight so had to pay for a new airline ticket.

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Its worth buying insurance as soon as you pay for your tickets. I once had to claim cancellation fees. My partner was injured a few weeks before a planned trip to India so my trip had to be cancelled.

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Even while you are away, it pays to have read the detail of your policy

If you have an accident and you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you will get no help or cash from the insurance company.

Sometimes if you have an accident, the damage to you will be covered, but not any damage to the hire vehicle.

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Specify items that are more expensive and have these specifically covered or don’t take them. This was learnt the hard way by one of our TMA members when a gold necklace was ripped off their neck from behind. The maximum single item cover was $500 but the replacement value of the necklace was discovered to be many times that as the necklace had been purchased many years ago and the price of gold has soared over the last decade. Items to consider specifically listing are jewellery, lap tops, cameras and sporting equipment.

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Time is ultimately our most important resource, and having travel insurance saves time. In this complicated world we live in, the assistance you receive in the event of a drama, is just as important as the cash. Knowing where the good doctors are nearby, can even make the difference between life and death. E.g. if you are bitten by a potientially rabies infected dog, you need to access medical attention on the day of the bite. It can be difficult to find the vaccine in some countries. I had one patient who went to 6 doctors in India trying to find the proper rabies vaccine. It is so much easier if you can ring your insurance company and say “Find me some rabies vaccine and get me there today.”

Follow the tips above and you can concentrate on having a great adventure, and probably nothing will go wrong as the world works in strange ways … Eg if you take your raincoat and umbrella with you, it will be sunny

For more info on travel insurance from Department of Foreign Affairs, Australian Government

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