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We are all living longer. The old saying of 'three score years and ten' i.e. 70 is no longer true for life expectancy. It is common to live into the 80s and 90s. With healthier living and new medical technology which replaces those worn out parts, there are some who predict that those born now could expect to live for 90 years, and that within a decade, a life span of 100 is possible. Most of us are in much better shape than our parents or grandparents. Modern lifestyles, medicine and treatments mean that health problems, which would probably have killed you quickly, can now be treated. This in turn means that there are millions of people, many of whom are over 60, can live almost normal lives even when they have strokes or cancer.

Restrictions on age

Most UK travel insurers have arbitrary age limits above which they will refuse travel insurance cover, ask for substantial extra premium, offer reduced cover, or demand lots of medical information. The age limit is an obvious problem area. The hidden problem area is much worse. The small print will usually exclude any claims, or even all cover, where there is a serious medical condition or undisclosed medical history. Most problems only come to light when you try to claim. In an industry of over 600 suppliers, margins are very tight, so a lot of insurers will scrutinize all claims carefully. Some have a reputation of being honest and fair, others have a reputation of finding any lame excuse to avoid paying valid claims. That 'cut price' travel health insurance policy can be cheap only because the insurers avoids as many claims as possible.

The UK is one of the few countries that discriminates on age. Insurers argue that statistics back up their demands for extra premium. However, these statistics, where they are recent rather than historic attitudes are very crude. A fit 75 year old is a different risk from an unhealthy one. Consumer groups argue that you may as well charge extra for being obese, or a smoker, as for being old.

Other restrictions

Age is not the only problem. Those with a recent medical history or medical condition are also discriminated against. Again, this discrimination is very crude in deciding who an insurer will or will not insure, what price they will charge and with what special terms and conditions. Even of you are fully fit you may have a problem. There are lots of activities that people do on their holiday which sneak into the excluded risk section of some policies. No two policies are identical though. Even skiing, horse riding, and motorcycling can be excluded risks.

Many more people are now going in for adventure holidays or long-term travel. These are no longer just for the young. Let’s face it, if you are going to be retired for 20 to 30 years, you may want more out of life than watching daytime television and babysitting the grandchildren. The need for specialist insurance is greater than ever, and conventional travel health insurance will usually turn you away if you are a 70 year old with benign cancer going on a long adventure holiday.

The idea of gap year travel is normally associated with people in their teens and twenties travelling around the world for a year. But now it also applies to mature workers and the retired. People going abroad to study is nothing new. The need for special travel insurance is growing, as countries increasingly restrict whom they offer free medical help to. Again, this is something, which more people are doing after retiring.

Then there is medical tourism. There is a huge growth in those going overseas for treatment and often combining that with time abroad for a recuperative family holiday. All travel insurers have reacted to this trend, and the need for special cover, in an unhelpful way - a universal exclusion on travelling for medical treatment, which often means that no cover applies to the person and often to any accompanying family. Experience suggests that many people buy normal travel insurance, and accidentally on purpose forget to say the real purpose of the trip-and even where no one asks a question; any claim will inevitably be turned down.

Buying insurance from a travel agent

This brings us neatly into where most people buy travel insurance. One in two travel insurance policies sold are sold by travel agents. By a quirk of law and politics, travel agents are not regulated in the same way as everyone else who sells travel insurance. The minefield of this need not concern us, but what much independent research shows is that the overwhelming majority of travel agents fail to advise on age or other exclusions, or even ask the questions that would reveal that the traveller has a medical condition or medical history that restricts or excludes travel insurance cover. What makes it much worse is that in general, the prices charged by travel agents for travel insurance are substantially higher than elsewhere. Part of the problem is that many customers wrongly feel they have no choice but to buy from the travel agent.

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