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How to Avoid One of the Biggest Travel Insurance Mistakes

These policies have a special definition of pre-existing medical conditions


Imagine you’re a month away from the cruise you’ve been planning for nearly a year. You’re traveling smarter these days, so with some health issues in the family, you decide to look into getting travel insurance.

The problem comes when you finally get around to looking for a policy. You find out that you won’t be covered for your medical expenses if your bad back flares up on your trip and you may not even be covered if you need to cancel the trip because your father-in-law’s heart condition worsens.

The reason: They’re pre-existing conditions, which are usually excluded on travel insurance policies.

Fortunately, that doesn’t have to be the case. Based on my work at Squaremouth, an online company that compares travel insurance products, I’ve found that you may be able to buy travel insurance covering pre-existing conditions without paying more or filling out a special application. It’s all about timing.

You may be able to buy travel insurance covering pre-existing conditions without paying more or filling out a special application. It’s all about timing.

How Travel Insurance Defines Pre-Existing Conditions

You’re likely familiar with the term “pre-existing condition” as it relates to health insurance, but travel insurance defines it a little differently. In travel insurance terms, a pre-existing condition is typically defined as an “injury, sickness or condition for which medical advice, diagnosis, care or treatment was recommended or received” during what’s known as the “lookback period.” This lookback period is typically two to six months before the policy’s coverage effective date.

You may have a pre-existing condition, from a travel insurance standpoint, if any of the following occurred during the lookback period:

  • A doctor recommended or performed a diagnostic test, examination, or medical treatment
  • You received a new prescription or had a change in your current prescription or dosage of a medication
  • You experienced a change in an existing condition, for better or worse
  • You exhibited symptoms for which you should have sought care or treatment

A stable condition or disease may not be considered a pre-existing condition, though. If you have diabetes, for example, but have not experienced any change in your condition or medication in the past few months, that would not be a pre-existing condition.

Essentially, if you can look back at your medical records over the past 60 to 180 days and see a documented change, you may be considered to have a pre-existing condition.

The Need to Be Proactive

If you want pre-existing condition coverage, you need to be proactive in your search for travel insurance. Many policies will cover pre-existing conditions, but only if you purchase the policy within 14 to 30 days of when you make your first booking for your trip. As soon as you reserve a hotel, book a flight, or make a deposit on a cruise, the clock starts ticking. On some policies, you must also insure 100 percent of your trip cost to be eligible for pre-existing condition coverage. The upshot: it’s very important to look at the policy requirements before you buy.

To qualify for pre-existing condition coverage, you must also be considered medically stable to travel when you purchase your policy. So if you haven’t been to a doctor in a while or if your condition was not stable during your last visit, you may want to have your physician confirm that you’re currently stable to travel.

If You Booked Your Trip a While Ago

But what if you booked your trip a long time ago? In that case, you may not be able to get pre-existing condition travel insurance coverage. However, you may be able to find a policy that still covers most of your needs.

A policy with a shorter lookback period may be more favorable. For example, if your back injury was three months ago, it would not be considered a pre-existing condition on a policy with a 60-day lookback period.

Once you determine the kind of coverage you need, use a travel insurance comparison site to browse and compare policies. You can also call a licensed travel insurance agent to make sure you end up with a policy that covers your specific concerns.

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