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Six-figure medical bills not uncommon for holiday accidents

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
The jaw-dropping costs of falling ill or having an accident abroad have been revealed, making it more important than ever to have the right travel insurance.

Nearly 3,000 travellers a week are seeking emergency medical treatment while abroad with £200 million a year being paid out to those who fall seriously ill or have accidents overseas.

According to insurance trade body, the Association of British Insurers (ABI), it is not uncommon for UK holidaymakers to rack up six-figure medical bills abroad, making it vital that travellers have the right travel cover.

The ABI calculated that, given the high cost of emergency medical treatment abroad, someone earning the average £27,500 salary would need to work over 25 years in order to meet the cost.

With 3.8 million Brits travelling to the USA each year and it having some of the highest medical costs, the ABI has highlighted some of the claims made:

  • £768,000 to cover the medical costs of treating a traveller who suffered a stroke. This includes £60,000 for an air ambulance back to the UK.
  • £252,000 to treat a brain haemorrhage and broken shoulder suffered by a traveller when he fell off a cycle.
  • £32,000 to pay for a four-day hospital stay to treat a 12-year-old girl who caught pneumonia on a school trip. The travel insurer also paid for the cost of flying out a member of the family to be with her.

Elsewhere in the world, here are examples of emergency medical bills faced by British travellers which have been paid by travel insurers:

  • £136,000 for treating complications following an insect bite in Chile. This included paying for a nurse to escort the traveller home.
  • £125,000 to pay for surgery following a jet-ski accident while holidaying in Turkey.
  • £81,000 to cover ongoing costs of treating a holidaymaker who contracted pancreatitis in Greece.
  • £74,000 paid to treat a brain haemorrhage in Cuba.
  • £60,000 to treat injuries sustained in a road accident in El Salvador, including £33,000 for an air ambulance back to the UK.

Importance of travelling with the right insurance

When travelling in Europe, the free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) gives you access to state-provided healthcare available to a local resident.

However, it is no substitute for having travel insurance as it will not cover all medical costs, or the cost of emergency repatriation back to the UK. From Spain an air ambulance can cost £25,000.

Mark Shepherd, assistant director, head of property, commercial and specialist lines at the ABI, said: “While most travellers enjoy their breaks, falling seriously ill overseas is stressful enough, without the added worry of how to pay for potentially very expensive medical bills.

“Yet incredibly an estimated one in four travellers still travel without insurance, despite the fact that the average cost of a single trip policy can be less than what a family spends on snacks at the airport.

“With a wide range of competitively priced policies available, shop around, don’t forget to disclose any pre-existing medical conditions, and remember that the cheapest policy may not be best for your needs.”

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