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How Travel Insurance Companies Unjustly Penalise Disabled People

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This weekend I finally got around to booking my summer holiday. We’ve decided to go to Egypt as although the flights are kind of pricey, the hotels are amazingly cheap. I’ve always wanted to go there, and I got all excited booking day trips to see the historical sites and a boat trip on the Nile. I was in a really good mood as I methodically worked my way through my list of things to sort out such as transportation to the airport and visas. Everything was going swimmingly until I reached the last thing on my list: sorting out travel insurance.

Since birth I’ve had hemiplegia, a form of cerebral palsy, and I developed epilepsy when I was 15. Surprisingly, these conditions have little impact on the cost of travel insurance — the quotes for annual worldwide coverage were all around the £50 mark. What did have an impact on the quote was when I declared the brain tumor that was discovered when the doctors looked into the cause of the epilepsy. Suddenly all the quotes skyrocket to anywhere between £350 and £700. £700 is more than the actual cost of my holiday!

This is ridiculous when you consider the facts. My brain tumor is benign. In the 10 years since it was discovered, it has actually shrunk. Initially I had scans pretty frequently to check on it, as the doctors predicted it would grow, but they’ve now been reduced to every five years. They’re only that frequent as it’s better to be safe than sorry. I don’t lose any sleep over it, and there’s no need to remove it as it poses no real threat. In many ways I’m annoyed that it was even discovered, as it caused unnecessary worry when I was younger. To have a brain scan, I need to have a general anesthetic because my tremor would make the images unclear. This means the event takes an entire day, I’m unable to eat or drink and I wake up feeling nauseous.

My brain tumor is not going to cause any issues while I’m on holiday, and if I stopped having precautionary scans, I wouldn’t even have to declare it. But alas I do, and due to insurers standardizing their questionnaires to increase their profit margins, they are not properly investigating individual circumstances to offer reasonable policies. This predominantly leads to disabled people being penalised.

See when you declare you have a benign brain tumor; they ask only two questions: Has it been removed and are you receiving any further treatment? I am baffled that they are allowed to get away with setting extremely high prices with such little data and they can claim to be able to determine the risk of each brain tumor fairly. Simply asking “how long have you had the tumor without there being any change?” would vastly improve the quality of the risk assessment. The likelihood of a benign brain tumor that hasn’t changed in five years suddenly growing is significantly lower than a newly discovered one changing, and this should be reflected in the travel insurance cost.

As it stands, travel insurance companies are encouraging people to neglect their health (undiagnosed issues don’t have to be declared) and discriminating against vulnerable groups who often have the lowest incomes. My Gran, for example, delayed going to the doctors about her knee that was causing her great discomfort out of fear of what would happen to the cost of her travel insurance.

I do acknowledge that insurance companies should be able to differentiate between high risk and low risk groups and set their price accordingly, up to a point. But how can it be legal that they only discriminate against people with existing health conditions and make no effort to understand the situation? They don’t charge hen and stag parties more money when they are going to spend a weekend smashed and therefore are significantly more likely to end up making a claim than me on a sightseeing holiday! Equally, they don’t charge men more than women even though they are more likely to behave recklessly or have a car accident.

Accurately calculating the risk of somebody having an accident abroad is complex, but I believe in the majority of cases we pose as little risk as an able-bodied person. I’d even argue we pose less of a risk as we are often monitored closely by doctors, we tend to be far more proactive about looking after ourselves and many of us aren’t even physically capable of getting into certain dangerous situations.

If the EU can pass laws that make it illegal for car insurers to discriminate based on gender (despite the overwhelming data that supports this premium) why can travel insurers discriminate so blatantly, with so little supporting evidence against disabled people?

Discrimination against disabled people is supposedly illegal, and yet this is blatantly disregarded by travel insurance companies who exploit us. They can claim that their questionnaires were designed by medical experts and are fair, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize they are inadequate and the excess amounts disabled people are forced to pay are unjust and disproportional to the risk.

I am appealing the quote I have been given. Things won’t change unless we start calling organizations out and demanding the laws that are meant to protect us are enforced. I get that this might seem like a first world problem when so many disabled people are living in poverty and having their benefits stripped away, but we should be able to relax and have exciting experiences just like everybody else. We are not second-class citizens, and mental health issues are prevalent in disabled people — being able to live more active, fulfilling lives would really help combat this. We shouldn’t have to go on fewer holidays because of ridiculous insurance costs. We shouldn’t have to seriously consider traveling uninsured or contemplate having unnecessary brain surgery to save a vast amount of money in the long term.

Getty image by Ronstik.

Originally published: June 23, 2019
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