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Travel insurance policies should carry health warnings

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Many Travel Insurance Policies should carry health warnings

The holiday season is almost upon us and over the next few months all too many travellers will suffer a misfortune only for insurers to add insult to injury when the claim is turned down.

Travel insurance has always had a dubious reputation and receives a high level of complaints, particularly involving medical conditions (for either cancellation, curtailment or treatment claims.)

And given the amount of fine print, unless you, your family and work colleagues enjoy exemplary health, it is hard not to fall foul of an exclusion in most policies.

But it doesn't have to be that way, there are some policies that do not expect you to have an in-depth knowledge of the medical history of everyone you know or having to phone a call centre to obtain pre-clearance of medical conditions; but more about a solution later.

Most travel policies exclude pre-existing medical conditions, although some can be covered if they are pre-cleared with the insurer before you travel. This may be fine when it relates to you and your immediate family, (although I struggle to remember what ailments I have had over the years, let alone the kids), but the requirement usually also applies to travel companions and the wider family to include parents, grand parents and in laws. It also applies to business colleagues (usually defined as someone you work with who needs to be at work while you are away) and some include cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. The extent of medical disclosure will vary, but are normally onerous and likely to include undiagnosed conditions under investigation or awaiting results.

And it gets worse. Even after the trip is booked and insurance arranged you need to notify the insurer if the medical circumstances change before you travel and when you do, some insurers withdraw cover or charge higher premiums even for minor conditions.

Rulings by the Financial Services Ombudsman Service on reasonableness of these policy conditions have helped, but to be sure you are covered you will have to ask intrusive medical information of all your family and work colleagues both when you take the insurance and regularly until you travel.

But as mentioned there is an alternative, some (but by no means all) Business Travel Insurers take a more simplistic and trusting approach. Cover is provided unless you are travelling against medical advice or for the purpose of seeking medical treatment and underwriters take the view that as a business you cannot be expected to know detailed information about an employee and their families and that most people do not tend to travel if problems are expected.

There is also a much more realistic approach to hazardous activities with few exclusions or restrictions compared with personal travel policies. It is not just the obvious risky activities such as mountaineering (for which specialist covers are available) but the likes of football, mountain biking and body boarding.

With hazardous activities, it is not just the medical cost if you injure yourself, as important is whether third party liability is included, particularly for the likes of Jet Skis and Quad Bikes. And then there is the equipment itself, although it is unlikely that damage to a hired jet ski or quad bike will be covered, so you are in the hands of the operator and the conditions you sign at the time.

Business Travel policies can be very flexible and set up to meet your requirements including personal travel for directors and senior managers (and their families) and a big advantage is they generally cover all staff, so there is no need to arrange one off cover for infrequent travellers.

There are still a few things to watch, not all policies automatically include manual work abroad and Business policies tend to exclude specific high risk countries (unless they are told in advance).

In recent years, mainstream Travel insurance has become a price driven commodity and if it's advertised as the cheapest there will be a reason. But with premiums starting from £250 for Business policies, it can be a cost effective, as well as providing decent cover, although as always check the fine print.

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