Travel insurers are openly discriminating against the 9 million UK sufferers of Diabetes, Epilepsy, Asthma, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Motor Neurone and Dementia, claims Brian Wright, Managing Director of karmainsurance.com
He believes that providers consistently contravene the Disability Discrimination Act which states ‘insurers are required by law to justify their position if they wish to treat people with medical conditions differently from others.’
“Premiums should be based on actuarial statistics and an in-depth knowledge of a condition, but there is little evidence this happens. As soon as people with pre-existing medical conditions ask for a travel quote, discriminatory assumptions are made and they are faced with higher insurance premiums or no quote at all. Insurers have created a stigma for those with pre-existing medical conditions and it needs challenging. They take a one-size fits all approach, believing specific conditions present the same symptoms and are at the same stages. When challenged they are unable to refer to statistical evidence or justify why a particular premium has been quoted for a particular person and will not offer alternative options if they withhold cover.”
This view is borne out by a recent study undertaken by the Parkinson’s Disease Society. It surveyed 10,000 people with the condition and found that 27% had either been quoted increased premiums for travel insurance or refused cover. This is despite the fact that Parkinson’s does not affect the length of life. In March this year, Karma mystery shoppers found diabetics were given quotes four times more expensive than its own cover.
Independent research specialist Defaqto recently berated insurance company attitudes to pre-existing medical conditions, stating “there are many customers and conditions for which insurers are unwilling to give cover, or can only provide at a price the customer is unwilling to pay.” This suggests all is not well in the market as a perennial problem exists with customers who have medical histories.
Defaqto recommends insurers make the process more simplistic by explaining the options available, giving examples of the sorts of conditions customers should disclose and directing people towards insurers who may offer cover for a particular condition, if they choose not to.
Ignorance appears to be rife amongst tour operators. In July 2006 a Which? survey revealed many travel agents do not discuss the issue of pre-existing medical conditions during the sale of insurance alongside a holiday, effectively leaving certain customers with cover that will exclude them should they need to make a claim. Customers were also unlikely to change their minds about their insurance believing it is tied into the holiday sale or unwilling to discuss their medical history in an open-shop environment.
Associations and Societies providing support to those with conditions, report members frequently experience difficulties in sourcing cover and hint insurers may be guilty of infringing basic Human Rights as well as acting in a discriminatory manner.
Brian Wright concludes: ‘Many people do not see their condition as a medical problem – it is more a way of life. Their conditions are under control and pose no threat to their holiday, yet insurers do not recognise this. The Industry needs to re-think its risk assessments, pricing strategies and intrusive medical screening processes to make cover more accessible and affordable to all. It is appalling to think that 9 million people, 15% of the UK population, are being discriminated against. Although there are events to raise awareness of these conditions, more needs to be done within the insurance industry. Consumers who are priced out of the market will, as a result, either buy insurance and not disclose any history, travel without insurance for that condition and take a risk, or not travel at all.”
Karma Insurance recognises medical conditions that are not ordinarily included in insurers’ policies.
Karma donates a percentage of every premium to the World Land Trust, an international UK-based conservation charity that helps purchase or protect over 250,000 acres of rainforest.
Travel insurance: News update: June 2008