Are you planning an overseas holiday? If you have asthma, you’ve probably thought about making sure you have enough medication for your trip. Hopefully you’ve updated your asthma management plan too. But have you considered what if would happen if you have an serious asthma exacerbation while you are away? Would your travel insurance policy cover any medical and other expenses? Find out why its important to take out travel insurance for asthma before you travel. And how to check what’s covered and what isn’t.
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Travel insurance basics
A travel insurance policy is a type of insurance cover that protects you against some unforeseeable (and potentially very expensive) things that can happen while you are travelling. This usually includes cover for lost or stolen luggage, cancelled flights or tours, having to cancel your whole trip or ending up in hospital overseas.
(For Australians, international travel insurance policies normally offer comprehensive coverage in one policy. This means both trip protection (travel cancellation costs, loss or damage to luggage etc) and medical expenses. For travelling within Australia, normally Medicare and/or your private health insurance will still cover your medical expenses. This might be different in other countries. For example, if you live in the US, the type of medical travel insurance offered may differ depending on whether you have US health insurance cover or not.)
Why you need travel insurance for asthma
If you only ever have mild asthma, this may not have a significant impact on your holiday plans.
However, if you or someone in your family has moderate to severe asthma, and is at risk of needing medical treatment or going to hospital, you will definitely need to ensure that you have appropriate travel insurance cover. An asthma exacerbation could result in major changes to your holiday plans.
If you have a serious asthma exacerbation (an asthma attack) while you are travelling, it could result in you having to pay for:
- doctors fees;
- emergency ambulance transport;
- emergency department attendance or hospital admission;
- other medical expenses;
- flight, accommodation or tour cancellation fees and/or rebooking alternatives;
- medical evacuation; or
- repatriation to your home country.
Serious asthma symptoms could not only be traumatic, but end up costing you a lot of money. This is where travel insurance policies that cover asthma are so important.
People with asthma should consider taking out a travel insurance policy at the same time as booking a trip to cover the unexpected.
Are all travel insurance policies for asthma the same?
Travel insurance for asthma isn’t as simple as it sounds. It’s not just a case of taking out the cheapest or easiest policy and ticking travel insurance off your to do list. Travel insurance policies have different types of cover for medical conditions like asthma and have different exclusions. It’s important to read any travel insurance policy documents carefully. Ask the insurer or travel agent questions to ensure that you have the cover you expect.
In Australia, you’ll find travel insurance policy terms and conditions in a the insurer’s “Product Disclosure Statement“, or “PDS“. Insurance companies must also set out a description of the types of customers the product is designed for in a Target Market Determination (“TMD“). These important documents are often available to read on the insurer’s website. However some insurers won’t provide a copy until you have filled in a request for quote. If booking your trip with a travel agent, they should be able to provide you with a written copy of the PDS and TMD for travel insurance they recommend.
TIP: Travel agents will often get a commission if you buy insurance through them. Be prepared to consider other options if the insurance they offer isn’t right for you).
Asthma as a pre-existing medical condition
Not all travel insurance offers coverage for “pre-existing conditions“, including asthma. Travel insurance companies will have a definition of “pre-existing condition” in their terms and this may differ between insurers. Generally speaking it is a medical condition that you know about already.
Often this is more than just a health condition already noted in your medical records. A pre-existing condition could also be something you have seen a doctor about or had tests for (whether or not you have received the results). It could be something that your usual doctor has prescribed a medication or a change in medication for. For example with asthma, your doctor might have prescribed a rescue inhaler like ventolin but you could still be waiting to see a respiratory specialist for more testing and a formal diagnosis. That may be enough to fit within the definition of a “pre-existing condition”.
Depending on the insurer’s terms and conditions, some pre-existing conditions may not be covered at all. Others might only be covered on special terms or if you pay a larger premium.
Do I have to tell the insurer about my asthma?
The short answer is yes. If you are applying for travel insurance that includes medical cover, you do need to tell your travel insurance company about any pre-existing conditions. This includes asthma.
Insurance policies are a special kind of legal contract. Both the insurer offering the cover and you as the insured person have a legal duty of disclosure. In other words, you must tell the insurer everything that might be relevant to deciding whether to provide travel insurance to you. Insurers decide how much to charge for a policy based on the risks. When you have asthma, the insurer needs to know in advance if there is a risk you might have a severe asthma attack while you are travelling. This could potentially mean that it has to pay out a large amount of money when you make a claim. This risk assessment is why insurers may ask a lot of questions as part of a medical screening or assessment when you apply for travel insurance.
Do all travel insurance policies cover asthma?
Not all travel insurance policies will cover asthma, especially asthma that is not considered to be “well-controlled”.
It’s also also important to note that some travel insurance won’t provide cover where you are currently being investigated for symptoms. For example, if you have symptoms like shortness of breath or a persistent cough but have not yet received a diagnosis. This could catch people who have not yet received an asthma diagnosis.
Fortunately there are many companies that will provide travel insurance for asthma if if you meet the insurer’s criteria.
Common criteria for asthma travel insurance
Some travel insurance policies include a list of pre-existing medical conditions that are automatically covered. For many insurers this includes asthma. However, in the fine print, you’ll see that in most cases this only applies to well controlled asthma. There may also be age restrictions (for example, you may not be covered over the age of 60 or 70).
Where there is cover for pre-existing conditions but it isn’t automatic (or at least not for your asthma), you’ll usually need to complete a pre-existing medical conditions screening or assessment. Often you can do this online when you apply for insurance. Some companies require you to log on to a specific medical assessment portal. Others will even phone you to do an assessment in over the phone.
It is common for travel insurance providers to ask questions about your asthma, including whether in a specified time period (such as the last 6 or 12 months) you have:
- had any asthma exacerbations;
- needed hospital treatment for your asthma, either emergency department attendance or hospital admission;
- had a change in medication or your usual treatment.
Insurers may also ask follow up questions about the age you were diagnosed, how many medications you take to control your asthma, whether you have ever been prescribed oxygen outside of hospital and if you have ever smoked.
The purpose of these screening questions is to assess whether your asthma is “stable” and well controlled.
Will you have to pay more for travel insurance?
Your answers to the medical screening questions are used to decide whether you will be charged more for your travel insurance. If the insurer considers you to be a higher risk, it may charge an additional premium. Your risk profile will be higher if you have had recent medical treatment for asthma compared to someone who’s asthma is stable.
TIP: If you have a credit card that offers “automatic” travel insurance for holidays paid for with your card, don’t assume that this will offer insurance cover for your asthma. You still need to go through the process of disclosing any pre-existing conditions with the relevant insurer. This may involve completing a medical assessment and paying an additional premium. Contact your credit card provider to find out more.
What happens if you don’t tell the insurer about asthma?
If you don’t tell your insurer that you have an allergy, you won’t be covered for anything directly or indirectly related to it. This means that if you have a serious asthma exacerbation while you are travelling that disrupts your travel in any way and costs you money, you will have to pay for any expenses yourself.
This may not sound too bad, but the costs could actually be very significant. What if you or your child have an asthma attack which means you end up in hospital? Depending on where you are holidaying, this could end up costing a very large amount of money for medical care. What if you have to be evacuated to medical care elsewhere?
We have first-hand experience of the huge costs of attending an emergency department of a hospital overseas. Fortunately our enormous medical bills were covered by our travel insurance. Without cover, I am not sure how we could have paid.
As well as considering medical costs, what will happen if any part of your trip is delayed or cancelled as a result of needing treatment for your asthma? The costs of missed flights and accommodation can be significant. So can the costs of alternative accommodation if you have to stay longer in one place.
Travel insurance companies that cover asthma
We always take out travel insurance when we travel overseas, and we always ensure that it covers our various medical conditions, including asthma. This means we do disclose our “pre-existing” conditions and complete a medical questionnaire for each person. In our experience, we have been able to obtain travel insurance for asthma without difficulty, even when taking a number of different preventer medications and often having been prescribed oral steroids (prednisone/prednisolone) in the 12 months before we plan to travel.
However, because our family member with asthma has other medical conditions including severe allergies, we usually do have to pay an small extra premium. We use Cover-More Travel Insurance and the cost has been very reasonable. Cover-More Travel Insurance is also available in New Zealand.
For those living outside of Australia or New Zealand, there are many companies that offer travel insurance for pre-existing conditions including asthma. A lot of insurance comparison websites allow you to search for companies that offer coverage for pre-existing medical conditions. If you are based in the US, InsureMyTrip offers free quotes for travel insurance. Or try an insurance company that specialises in travel insurance cover for medical conditions.
Whenever you apply for travel insurance, make sure that you go through the policy wording carefully and check:
- if pre-existing conditions are covered, and in what circumstances or they aren’t;
- if you need to complete a medical assessment;
- that you meet any medical assessment requirements; and
- whether you need to pay an extra premium.
If you have any questions at all about whether your asthma is covered, you should contact the insurer and ask before you buy a policy.
What if I can’t get travel insurance for asthma?
Sometime an insurer will simply refuse to cover your asthma because your condition is considered to be too high risk. For example, if you have severe asthma and have been in hospital recently, or multiple times, or if you are older.
If this happens to you, it’s often worth trying a different insurer. In Australia, the Insurance Council of Australia has a database of insurers on its website, which you can search by “pre-existing medical condition”.
Without insurance, you can chose not to travel. Or you can still travel, but know you won’t be covered for any expenses that are incurred as a result of your asthma while you are away. This might affect where you choose to go for your holiday or the type of activities you do while you are there.
More about safe travel with asthma
Once you have organised your travel insurance, make sure you keep a copy of your policy certificate and the PDS handy. Take a copy with you on your trip and put the claims and information contact numbers for your insurer in your phone in case you need them.
It’s a good idea to visit your doctor well before you go to make sure that you have enough of your asthma medication and that your written asthma action plan is up to date. And don’t forget to pack your medication (and spares) in your hand luggage where it is easily accessible.
Have a safe trip!
*Disclaimer: Content on the Allergy Spot website is general information only and does not constitute advice. Information displayed on the website does not take into account the personal circumstances or objectives of any individual and must not be relied upon. Please consider your financial situation, needs and objectives and read the the relevant Product Disclosure Statement (PDS), Financial Services Guide (FSG) and Target Market Determination (TMD) before applying for any travel insurance policy and obtain your own advice. Allergy Spot is an affiliate of Cover-More Insurance Service Pty Ltd and InsureMyTrip.