Tens of thousands of people living with cancer are being unfairly priced out of the insurance market, a leading charity has found, with the premium for a few days’ travel insurance regularly topping £1,000.
Macmillan Cancer Support, the charity, claims that while cancer is predicted to strike one in two people at some point in their lives, improvements in detection and treatment mean many will go on to lead healthy lives. The insurance industry is failing to adapt to this trend, it says.
Macmillan’s analysis found that even those whose diagnosis was made 10 years ago or more are routinely denied cover. Where cover was offered it was often hugely expensive.
On average, Macmillan found that people with cancer paid £133 for travel insurance – four times as much as everyone else.
Police sergeant Andrew Rowston was diagnosed and treated for bowel and liver cancer in 2011. After chemotherapy and surgery he was given the all-clear and stopped all medication, requiring nothing more than six-monthly check-ups.
But when he tried to buy travel insurance to visit his daughter in Portugal he was quoted £550 – five times the cost of the flights.
Mr Rowston, 55, said: “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I could have flown to Portugal and back for under £100.”
The eye-watering cost of cover meant Mr Rowston deferred the trip.
He has subsequently travelled there without insurance, relying instead on the European Health Insurance Card, which would entitle him to treatment at the same cost as locals if he fell ill.
If he needed to be repatriated his daughter agreed to drive him back to the UK herself.
“I was really conscious of the fact I didn’t have insurance and it made me anxious. I just hoped nothing would happen,” he said.
Mr Rowston recently obtained quotes for travel insurance, after four years in remission. The cost of the premium was still the same. He said: “It seems to make no difference how long I’ve been well. I’m still being discriminated against because I had cancer.
“I’m not naive, I know I may be more of a risk than a ‘healthy person’, but I can’t understand why I’m paying this much more. Insurers need to engage with people who understand cancer and then calculate premiums appropriately.”
Mr Rowston said he will only go abroad if he is visiting someone and “wouldn’t dream of going outside Europe” where medical care would be too costly.
He said: “Life with cancer is still a life – and we should be allowed to live it.”
Numbers run by GoCompare, the financial comparison site, revealed a startling difference in the cost of cover for those with and without a long-term health condition.
With no health conditions, a woman aged 45 would pay £5.28 for insurance with All Safe for a fortnight in Europe.
Had she been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past two years, and if she were on more than one type of medication, the cheapest policy would cost £14.98, from Puffin.
If she had had a lung cancer diagnosis within the past two years and was currently undergoing chemotherapy the premium would rocket to £674.98, with Good to Go Insurance. A GoCompare spokesman said: “Many insurers are reluctant to cover people with serious medical conditions due to the higher risk.”
It cited the double risk of holiday cancellation and treatments while abroad.
But Macmillan questions whether the risk assessments are accurate and whether they are taken into account.
“Cancer isn’t a minority disease, nor is it a death sentence,” a spokesman said.
Clinicians predict that, by 2020, one in two people will get the disease at some point. But survival rates are improving: those diagnosed with cancer are twice as likely to live for 10 years after their diagnosis than at the start of the Seventies.
Martyn James, a consumer rights expert from Resolver, the complaints website, said the insurance industry is in need of a “shake up”.
“The odds are really stacked against those living with cancer, and other illnesses, when it comes to getting travel insurance.
“It’s incredibly unfair. Why should someone who has survived a serious medical condition then have their life curtailed because the insurance industry is out-of-date?”
Mr James said there were a number of ways insurers could improve their approach to those with health conditions.
He suggested they accept a doctor’s note stating the customer’s condition was in remission or had improved and they were fine to travel.
“Insurers are happy to take advice from their own panel of medical experts – but not those of the customer,” Mr James said.
He said insurers could also be more transparent with their calculations.
Lynda Thomas, chief executive for Macmillan Cancer Support, said those with cancer may long for a holiday “as a chance to recuperate, to celebrate the end of their treatment, or to spend precious time with friends or family”.
She said their plans are often “shattered” by travel insurance issues.
She said: “It’s not good enough that they are being denied travel insurance or charged sky-high prices.
“Even those who were diagnosed a decade ago are being written off as ‘uncoverable’.
“Travel insurance policies should be clear and fairly priced for everyone, including people with cancer.”
The Association of British Insurers, which represents insurers, said the industry “is always trying to find new ways to develop affordable options”.
It advised those with serious and long-term health conditions to use a specialist broker.
These are likely to require more detail of applicants’ conditions than comparison sites usually ask for, and will be better able to negotiate lower premiums with insurers.
The British Insurance Brokers’ Association is a good place to start. It lists a number of brokers, including those which offer insurance to those with pre-existing medical conditions, through its “Find-ABroker” tool.
You can find more details on the Biba website, www.biba.org.uk, or by calling 0370 950 1790.
You can also try approaching specialist insurers that focus on older people or those with pre-existing conditions.
Such providers include Staysure, Saga, Avanti and All Clear Travel.