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Travel insurance warning: emergency medical bill can cost more than a house

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
The cost of some overseas medical treatments can cost more than the price of a UK home, so holidaymakers are urged to take out appropriate travel insurance.

The average travel insurance claim is just over £700, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

But emergency medical and repatriation costs when overseas can be significantly higher, even more than the price of an average UK home standing at £211k.

The ABI said that insurers now help over 3,000 travellers a week who need emergency medical care while abroad and bills in the USA can be considerable.

An insurer recently paid a medical bill of £322k for treating a swollen blood vessel in the brain while in another case, the treatment of an abscess in the abdomen resulted in the insurer paying out £101k in medical costs.

Emergency medical treatment on ocean cruises can also be costly, because of the difficulty and costs of transporting a patient to a medical facility nearby and the possibility of needing an air ambulance back to the UK.

The cost of treating a holidaymaker who suffered a heart attack on a Caribbean cruise, needing an air ambulance back to the UK came to £92,000.

Elsewhere in the world, examples of emergency medical bills faced by British travellers that were covered by travel insurance include:

  • £300,000 for the treatment of multiple injuries following a fall from a waterfall in Thailand;
  • £40,000 to cover the medical costs in treating a traveller to Indonesia who was bitten by a mosquito and contracted Dengue fever;
  • £31,000 treating a broken leg in Nepal that became infected;
  • £16,000 to treat a fractured hip caused by a motorcycle accident in Thailand;
  • £11,000 treating a brain tumour in Spain.

Despite the huge potential costs of medical treatment overseas, the ABI revealed that an estimated one in five travellers go abroad without any travel insurance.

Mark Shepherd, ABI’s manager, general insurance, said: “While most travellers enjoy trouble-free holidays, falling ill abroad can be very stressful without the added worry about how you will pay for potentially very expensive medical bills.

“Anyone travelling overseas should always take out appropriate travel insurance for the duration of their trip, and declare medical conditions when they take out their policy. A valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) when travelling in Europe is also strongly recommended. Though not a substitute for travel insurance, the EHIC is free and provides access to state-provided healthcare on the same basis as a resident.

“Travel insurance should not be an after-thought, but the first thing you arrange after booking any overseas trip.”

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