A pre-existing conditions scam?

I’ve never been a big fan of travel insurance — or of any insurance, for that matter. You either have to pay a high deductible to use it (health insurance) or you have to die (life insurance) or it’s no good at all. That certainly seems to be the case with many forms of travel insurance these days.

How do insurance companies get away with denying scores of travel claims? Well, one increasingly popular way is to invoke the pre-existing conditions clause, according to some of the recent ombudsman cases I’ve received.

A pre-existing condition is usually defined as any injury that happened prior to and including the effective date of the insurance and any recent illness for which treatment by a licensed physician has been sought.

Here’s the problem: No one ever reads the fine print on insurance policies. Instead, they rely on a phone agent or travel advisor to tell them what’s in it. And since insurance policies can be very complex, and since travelers don’t always feel the need to disclose their medical histories to their travel agents, something invariably gets lost in the translation. Or just plain lost.

Even for those travelers who are diligent enough to take the time to read the fine print, many policies are confusing about what does and doesn’t constitute a pre-existing condition. For example, some policies allow for what’s called a “controlled condition” — something for which you don’t need to change your medication or treatment during a given period of time. Others allow you to purchase a waiver of the pre-exisiting clause, but with strings attached.

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Result? Many travelers think they’re covered when, in fact, they aren’t.

It might be a stretch to call the confusion surrounding pre-existing conditions a scam. But I have no doubt that certain insurance companies are leveraging that confusion to their advantage — and to the detriment of their customers. (My success rate at overturning insurance denials is pretty low. It’s actually so dreadful that I’m embarrassed to cite numbers.)

My advice is to read all the fine print carefully and to ask any questions of your insurance company before buying your policy and booking your trip. Remember, it isn’t just your own health that’s an issue. It’s also your travel companions and other family members whose health may determine whether you travel or not. Be sure everyone is covered.

Finally, don’t cancel your trip and submit a claim unless you’ve checked with your travel insurance company first, to make sure the claim will be honored.

There’s nothing more frustrating that canceling a trip that you could have taken, just because you thought your insurance would cover you.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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