When booking a holiday or gap year abroad, travel insurance is often not at the forefront of young people’s minds and with the proliferation of websites and well-known high street companies selling policies underwritten by insurers, it is hard to see what you are buying sometimes. Add to that the fact that call centres and websites do not always make it clear what you are getting for your money and the result is that many people are shocked to find out just how little they are covered when it does come to making a claim.
A recent Internet poll conducted by Medicare International asked those planning to take out a policy whether their main focus was on valuables rather than healthcare. Just 20% said that valuables were their first consideration when buying travel insurance, with the remaining 80% putting healthcare as their number one priority, suggesting that healthcare is certainly on people’s radars for this critically important purchase. Healthcare is potentially the most dangerous and expensive thing that could go wrong in a gap year. When accidents do happen, the consequences can and frequently are catastrophic in terms of the outlay needed to cover medical bills and evacuation or repatriation to the UK.
Medicare International gives an example; take James Pinnington for example. Setting off on his gap year earlier this year, he bought a Boots Gap Year Travel Insurance policy, feeling safe in the knowledge that such a brand would give him comprehensive coverage in most situations. In May this year after arriving in Vietnam, like many young gap year students, he hired a scooter. Shortly afterwards, James unfortunately came off his bike and broke both of his legs in a very nasty accident. As a result, he needed a wide range of specialist emergency medical care he thought would be provided via his Boots policy. After checking with his insurance provider, he was told that the policy stated that customers were only covered for scooter accidents if they held a full UK motorbike licence and were wearing a crash helmet. Although James was wearing a crash helmet, he did not have a full UK motorcycle licence, even though he did have a full UK car licence that allowed him to ride motorcycles. The result was that Boots were unable to deliver the medical care he needed locally and so suggested their own repatriation service at a cost of £85,000. James’ father refused this offer and ended up having to spend £25,000 of his own money bringing his son home from a remote village in Vietnam. The Consumer Action Group believes that this piece of information should have been included in the key facts booklet that accompanied the policy, particularly in relation to policies designed for Gap Year students.
James’s father Chris Pinnington says: “Our priority was to get James home and make sure he received the best medical care. If we had known that his travel policy was so limited in terms of what it covered, we would have insisted he had taken a policy that gave us peace of mind. We just presumed that a name like Boots would ensure their reputation for good service would be a priority.”
David Pryor of Medicare International says, “James Pinnington’s case does not surprise us, there are so many travel policies that claim to include healthcare in the market today. These hybrid policies are quick and easy to purchase and very often few people read the small print. Our view is that gap year students might be better served avoiding hybrid policies by buying specialist medical insurance and keeping travel and possessions cover separate. Healthcare claims have the potential to spiral out of control in a manner which travel and possessions costs simply do not. At Medicare International we pride ourselves in giving our customers the best possible cover and care – even though it costs more initially, should there be any kind of accident or illness, our customers can rest assured that everything will be taken care of.”
Travel health insurance: News update: November 2008