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Travel insurance for medical tourism

Medical tourism, or going overseas for medical or dental treatment is a recent growth industry. Cheap travel, the opening of borders, and even the NHS admitting it can be quicker and cheaper for treatment to be arranged abroad are behind this. (See also Treatment Abroad - which provides additional information for for UK residents who are seeking surgery, cosmetic surgery, dentistry and infertility treatment abroad.)

Travel insurers have joined many private medical insurers in responding to this new trend in a universal way - by adding a blanket exclusion. A typical exclusion reads ' The insurance will not cover you when you are travelling with the intention of obtaining medical treatment or consultation abroad.' This general exclusion would be interpreted as including dental treatment.

Almost every policy will have a clear or tacit exclusion. Travel insurers will not cover people going abroad for treatment. They will not cover the medical risk, nor any related travel risks. We have yet to find any travel insurer seeking to offer special cover to this market

Insurers argue that instead of insuring fit and healthy people, they are insuring ill people who have a greater risk of a claim and of need for expensive medical help. They argue that if there is any illness, they cannot easily see if it is directly or indirectly related either to the treatment or the illness.

Many people want to recuperate overseas so turn it into a family holiday as they have already paid for the travel. If a family member is accompanying someone on a trip, we suggest that they book a normal travel policy separately without including the patient. Medical tourism is not something that the average travel agent asks about on insurance, so we fear that people are buying cover via travel agents and even direct; without being asked or volunteering the true reason for the trip. Anyone doing this runs the risk that an insurer can turn round and refuse to pay claims on any part of the policy- even if it is just lost luggage.

We hear of covers being offered overseas which claim to protect you, but buying overseas is a gamble as you have no consumer protection rights and will have great difficulty in deciding if it is really good cover.