It has been reported that people struggling with mental health problems may have to pay considerably more for travel insurance compared to those who don’t. The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) found in a UK-wide polling that surveyed 2,078 adults how premiums could cost up to 2000% more for “high risk” individuals with a diagnosed mental health issue.”
What were the findings of the MMHPI’s poll?
The poll conducted a mystery shopping exercise, and the results were very telling.
400% was the statistic for the jump in travel insurance cost to people that had disclosed their diagnosis, and had been stable and managing their condition for a long time.
Yet the situation appears to be even graver for those considered to be “severely” mentally ill, i.e. having been hospitalised or institutionalised at some point, and premiums in these instances rose by between 500% and 2000%.
With many facing the unfavourable choice between not going on holiday at all or paying a very sizeable travel insurance premium, people are opting not to alert their insurance of any mental health issues.
Reactions from those directly affected
One of the participants in the MMHPI survey described the stigma she feels is attached to her mental health condition: “My bipolar has never affected a trip, I follow all medical instructions as required, and they change me 100 per cent to 300 per cent more than if I didn’t have it (I check).”
There’s a sense that the increase is disproportionate to the risk for a lot of people, especially if they’re managing their condition well… and they’ve been stable for some time.”
Journalist Leah Milner, who also lives with bipolar disorder, appeared on Sky News to discuss the higher travel insurance premiums she is subject to. Six months after her diagnosis, she found that many insurance companies wouldn’t cover her at all once she alerted them to her illness.
“I buried my head in the sand, and for years I didn’t actually bother with travel insurance… which added to the stress.”
When embarking on a big trip to Brazil earlier this year, she decided that travel insurance was an absolute necessity. But she was met with quotes of over £700 for the year; five to six times more expensive than if she hadn’t disclosed her disorder.
“My mental health illness is historic – it has no effect on my day-to-day life – but I’m still punished for it.”
She continues, “What I think would be very helpful would be for the regulator to look into what the prices are behind the scenes that insurers are using.
“There’s a sense that the increase is disproportionate to the risk for a lot of people, especially if they’re managing their condition well… and they’ve been stable for some time.”
It seems that current mental health conditions are not the only complications when it comes to looking for travel insurance; even past episodes or illnesses are considered too.
Ben Roathe told The Sun that his insurance premium rose by 50% once he entered into a price comparison site that he’d struggled with depression in the past: “My mental health illness is historic – it has no effect on my day-to-day life – but I’m still punished for it.”
Choosing not to disclose your condition isn’t worth the risk
Even though it is understandably tempting to simply hope for the best while on holiday, and not disclose valuable information about your mental health to an insurance provider, it could hugely backfire.
All mental and physical conditions should be declared. If not, and you happen to undergo an upsetting health incident abroad, your insurance cover could be rendered invalid.
If you are worried about your finances, it is advised to take the time to shop around. Martyn John from price comparison site GoCompare said, “Unfortunately, like any other medical condition, any mental illness may impact your premium.
“This means that it’s incredibly important to get quotes from a range of providers, to make sure you’re getting the right cover for your needs at the best possible price.”
How do mental health charities react to the hike in travel insurance?
Michael Henson-Webb from the high-profile mental health charity Mind, highlighted the ignorance and inequality of the price discrepancy: “Insurers often make these decisions with very little explanation which makes it more difficult to challenge them.
“It’s important to read your insurance policy carefully, including the small print to make sure you understand exactly what it covers. Many insurance policies exclude pre-existing conditions such as depression which is considered pre-existing if you were experiencing it when you applied.”
Half of us will experience a mental health problem at some point… which could have a long-term impact on our access to insurance. If the mainstream travel insurance market doesn’t work for half of customers, then it’s not really working at all.”
“Pre-existing” or historical health problems can pose a large problem for people wishing to obtain travel insurance, as a recent study by the Co-op found that one in five people in this predicament cannot get insurance.
Helen Undy, Director of the MMHPI, is frustrated with many insurers’ approach to such a widespread and commonplace issue: “Half of us will experience a mental health problem at some point… which could have a long-term impact on our access to insurance. If the mainstream travel insurance market doesn’t work for half of customers, then it’s not really working at all.”
What should people do if they are struggling to find suitable cover?
If anyone is feeling misled, misunderstood or misrepresented by a mainstream insurer, there is another option: choosing a specialist provider.
A Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) spokesperson said, “During our research we found there is a significant market of specialist travel insurance providers which may be more effective, but these can be difficult for people to find.
“We are working with insurance firms and charities to help provide better information which can act as signposts so that people can get access to policies more suitable for their specific needs and at a more competitive rate.”