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Travel insurance medical claim bill hits eight-year high of £209m

Emma Lunn
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Emma Lunn

A UK traveller needs emergency medical treatment abroad every three minutes, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

Travel insurers helped 153,000 British travellers needing emergency medical treatment abroad during the past year. That’s the equivalent of 420 people every day, or one person every three minutes.

The total medical bill paid by insurers was £209m – £570,000 every day – the highest figure since 2010, according to the ABI.

Of the £399m paid out on all travel insurance claims, medical claims accounted for 52 per cent of claim costs, followed by cancellation costs at 36 per cent, then lost baggage or money at 4 per cent.

Examples of the costs of overseas emergency medical treatment include:

  • £200,000 to treat a traveller on a cruise in China who suffered a brain haemorrhage. This included an air ambulance back to the UK from Hong Kong.
  • £153,000 for treating a broken arm caused by falling out of a bed in San Francisco. This included paying for the flight back home.
  • £137,000 to treat a fractured spine resulting from a bathroom fall in Thailand, including return to the UK.
  • £89,000 to pay the medical bill for a holidaymaker who suffered a heart attack while visiting Turkey.

Without insurance, injured travellers who need an air ambulance back to the UK can expect to pay about £75,000 from Asia, £50,000 from the US and £13,500 from Italy.

Charlie Campbell, ABI’s manager of health and protection, said: “For too many people holidays can become horror days, if they fall ill or suffer a serious injury abroad. Needing medical treatment can be stressful wherever you are, without the added worry of how you can afford what can be sky high medical bills. Yet the average travel insurance policy costs less than what an average family can spend on drinks and food at the airport and will pay emergency medical bills than can easily run into six figures.

Five tips for a safer overseas holiday

  • Get an EHIC: A European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is free and gives you access to state-provided healthcare available to a resident. However, it is not a substitute for having travel insurance as it will not cover all medical costs, or the cost of emergency repatriation back to the UK. However, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, and in the absence of a specific agreement to the contrary, the EHIC will no longer apply.
  • Take the emergency contact details of your travel insurer when you travel: Take the emergency telephone numbers of your travel insurer should you need to contact it urgently. Your insurer, or its medical assistance provider, can advise and arrange for any emergency medical treatment that you may need.
  • Take care and stay safe: Try to avoid putting yourself at any unnecessary risk and always act responsibly. For example, avoid excess alcohol consumption. Generally, travel insurance will not cover accidents if you have not taken reasonable care.
  • Check if you are covered by your travel insurance for any activities you may do: If you plan any potentially dangerous holiday activity, such as bungee jumping, check if you are covered before you travel.
  • Declare any pre-existing medical conditions to your insurer: Tell your travel insurer about any pre-existing medical conditions when you take out your travel insurance. Specialist insurers or an insurance broker can often help in arranging cover.