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Travel insurance for pre-existing medical conditions

How to get travel insurance for a pre-existing medical condition.

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Last updated: 11 September 2019

Need to know

  • You must declare a pre-existing medical condition if you want it covered
  • Insurance cover for pre-existing medical conditions varies widely
  • You can haggle for a cheaper premium

What is a pre-existing medical condition?

A pre-existing medical condition in travel insurance is a diagnosed medical condition that you or any insured person has had, or has received any form of medical advice, treatment or medication for in a specified time period before you bought your travel insurance policy.

Most insurers would cover a condition if it hadn't led to treatment in the two years before you booked your trip, but others may specify five years or longer.

Insurers' definitions vary as to what the specified time period is. Government insurance contract regulations state: "a sickness, disease or disability to which a person was subject at any time during the period of six months before the contract was entered into and continues to be subject to after that time".

Unfortunately, insurers can get around this six-month rule and exempt themselves simply by "informing the policy holder in writing of the relevant provisions". In other words, they bury an exclusion or limitation in the product disclosure statement (PDS). And when we say "bury", we mean it – an insurer's PDS can be a soul-sapping 30,000 words long.

Most insurers would cover a condition if it hadn't led to treatment in the two years before you booked your trip, but others may specify five years or longer.

How to get cover for a pre-existing condition

There's often a lot of hoops to jump through to get cover. Insurers can:

  • exclude all pre-existing medical conditions
  • include a list of accepted pre-existing medical conditions (specified in the PDS)
  • subject you to an assessment for cover of your medical condition and charge a fee to complete this assessment (whether you get cover or not)
  • deny you cover for a medical condition on application

Even if you survive that minefield, you may then have to fork out several thousand dollars for the privilege of getting cover for your condition.

CHOICE tip: Filling out assessment forms for your medical condition can be time-consuming and frustrating, but try at least three different insurers because premiums and cover vary widely.

How are you assessed for a pre-existing medical condition?

Insurance technology firm Verisk provides the 'black box' risk rating system that most Australian insurers use to assess your condition.

The system contains a list of health conditions, each of which is assigned a risk factor. Depending on how high this risk factor is, the insurer can choose to rule out cover, or cover for an extra premium.

What if you can't get cover?

If you're denied cover for your pre-existing medical condition, or if you can't afford the extra premium, you can still buy a travel insurance policy. You just won't be covered for any claim that arises because of your pre-existing medical condition.

Smartraveller research found more than two in three people (67%) may not have travel insurance for their condition.

Ask your insurer for a better price

If the online quote is out of your price range, don't despair. A CHOICE Community member managed to get a discount by holding out on buying their policy:

"We are in our 70s. Between us we have a number of pre-existing conditions, which many insurers say they won't cover. InsureandGo accepted all our pre-existing conditions in a quote for annual cover for both of us for a year. It was quite expensive and we were not travelling straight away so I didn't follow up immediately. InsureandGo called us within a week, offering a very substantial discount, so we bought the policy. A week before we were to travel recently my partner broke his leg. The online claim system was very easy to use and InsureandGo paid our claim in full within a week. Very impressed."

What travel insurer will cover your pre-existing medical condition?

The comprehensive policies provided by these insurers may cover your pre-existing medical condition. Check the insurer's PDS for a specific list of conditions. If a condition is not listed as automatically covered then you may be able to apply to the insurer to cover your condition.

Travel insurance cover for pre-existing medical conditions
Brand Listed in PDS On application
1300 Insurance Yes Yes
1Cover Yes Yes
AHM Travel Yes Yes
AIG Yes Yes
Allianz Yes Yes
AMEX Travel Yes No
Australia Post Yes Yes
Australian Seniors Insurance Agency Yes No
Bank of Melbourne Yes Yes
BankSA Yes Yes
Boomers Travel Insurance Yes Yes
Budget Direct Yes No
Bupa Yes Yes
CGU Yes Yes
Columbus Direct No Yes
Cover-More Yes Yes
Defence Health Yes Yes
FastCover Yes No
GIO Yes Yes
Go Insurance Yes Yes
Good2Go Yes Yes
HIF Yes Yes
HSBC Yes Yes
Hume Bank Yes Yes
Insure4Less No Yes
InsureandGo No Yes
Medibank Travel Yes Yes
NRMA Yes Yes
Online Travel Insurance No Yes
RACV Yes Yes
Real Yes No
SCTI No Yes
Ski-insurance Yes No
StGeorge Yes Yes
Suncorp Yes Yes
Teachers Health Fund Yes Yes
Travel Insurance Direct Yes No
Travel Insurance Saver Yes Yes
Travel Insuranz Yes No
Travel With Jane Yes No
Virgin Australia No No
Virgin Money Yes Yes
Webjet Yes Yes
Westpac Yes Yes
Woolworths Yes No
World2Cover Yes Yes
Worldcare Yes Yes

Pre-existing medical cover with credit card travel insurance policies

Some credit card travel insurance policies require you to activate your insurance before you leave, which some people find a bit of a pain, but with pre-existing medical conditions this may actually be an advantage. 

A comment from a reader on our credit card travel insurance buying guide:

"We have used Westpac Black credit card for many years and have claimed twice without issue. However, this year, I developed a severe condition just prior to departure. Despite having spent well over $10,000 on airfares, cruise tickets etc. on the card, I was informed that cover 'commences at the date of departure'. So I was not covered for the condition because it is now considered a pre-existing condition at the date of departure. If I had purchased a standalone policy when I started making bookings, I would have been covered. This is a significant difference between credit card and standalone travel policies."

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