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Can You Get Travel Insurance With Respiratory Diseases?

It shouldn’t be difficult to find travel insurance for asthma; it is the one respiratory disease that is often included in the list of pre-existing medical conditions that enjoy automatic cover at no additional cost. But other more serious respiratory diseases and breathing conditions would only be considered – on a case by case basis – if they are disclosed up front, you complete a basic medical assessment, and are willing to pay an additional premium. This isn’t a discriminatory practice, but since all insurance is risk-based it is necessary for the insurer to factor the risk of your condition into the cover they are able to offer you.

What Respiratory Diseases are not Automatically Covered?

Asthma is not included in the list of automatically covered pre-existing medical conditions by all insurers, so if you have asthma you would need to start by first comparing travel insurance products from multiple insurers. But other respiratory diseases are not automatically covered by any insurers. These include:

  • Emphysema

  • Chronic bronchitis

  • Bronchiectasis

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

  • Pulmonary Fibrosis/Asbestosis

  • Cystic Fibrosis

This isn’t a comprehensive list, and you should still disclose any respiratory diseases or breathing conditions not listed above and that have been investigated, or you have received treatment for, in the last five years.

How to Disclose Your Respiratory Disease

It is very important to disclose any pre-existing medical conditions, including any respiratory diseases, as soon as you apply for travel insurance. Failure to do so could result in the insurer refusing to pay any claims, not just those related to your medical condition. Disclosing medical conditions is as simple as informing the insurer of any chronic medical conditions you have, or any medical conditions that you have received ongoing treatment for in the last five to ten years. If it something they need to consider they will either inform you that it is already covered or ask you to complete a medical assessment. The medical assessment is non-invasive and could include you having to answer questions relating to:

  • Whether you have been hospitalised in the past year.

  • Whether you have been prescribed oxygen at any time other than when in hospital.

  • The medications that have been prescribed for your condition.

  • How quickly you become short of breath when walking on flat surfaces.

  • Whether you have had pneumonia or any other chest infection in the past year.

If the insurer is willing to offer cover for your condition, they will inform you of the level of benefits, along with any additional cost involved in offering this cover. Comparing and approaching multiple travel insurers will help you find the best cover for your needs, and at a price you can afford. But even if no insurer is willing to offer cover for your respiratory disease you should still take out travel insurance. Just because an insurer declines to offer cover for a specific medical condition doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the other forms of cover travel insurance offers, which could still include some medical benefits if these are not related to your respiratory disease or breathing conditions.

Tips for Travelling with a Respiratory Disease

  1. Plan Ahead

Travelling with a respiratory disease is not impossible, but could require careful planning, in consultation with your doctor. The further ahead you plan, the better. Thoroughly research your destination, taking into account the altitude, and the weather. Higher altitudes will certainly affect your breathing and see you tiring a lot faster, but high heat and humidity should also be factored in.

  1. Get Medical Clearance

Your travel insurer will want to know that you are fit to travel, but with a respiratory disease the airline could also ask for confirmation. Your doctor will be able to provide you with official clearance to travel and to fly. When completing this, also ask your doctor for a letter detailing your condition, along with any recent treatments you have received, and your current treatment plan. It should include a list of all medication you are currently taking, the dosage, and what it is for.

  1. Arrange Oxygen with the Airline

All airlines are able to provide a compressed gas cylinder of oxygen, but this needs to be arranged well in advance. Contact all the airlines you will be using during your trip to find out what steps you need to follow, along with the cost of the oxygen. If you have your own oxygen concentrator you should also check with the airline if it is included on their list of acceptable medical equipment.

  1. Organise Your Medication

It is always better to keep your medication in its original packaging, or in containers that have printed labels with your name - and the name of the medication - on them. Carry a copy of your prescription too to help smooth the customs clearance process. Many countries limit the amount of medication that can be brought in, so you should check this too, while ensuring you have enough medication for the duration of your trip, and a little extra in case of delays. It is also safer to pack most of your medication in your carry-on luggage: this ensures you have it close of hand if you need it during the flight, but also protects you against the risk of your check-in luggage being lost or delayed.

  1. Take Out Travel Insurance

Covering the cost of medical treatment isn't the only benefit offered by travel insurance. The right policy will also offer benefits against your luggage or personal belongings being lost, stolen, or damaged, and more importantly - for anyone with respiratory disease - cover for cancelled or delayed travel plans. Having a chronic medical condition increases the risk of sudden changes to your health that may require deferment of your planned trip, and without travel insurance you risk losing deposits and any other pre-paid travel expenses.

Additional Resources

  • https://lungfoundation.com.au/ - source of life-changing research and programs that support and provide hope to people of all ages with a lung disease.

  • http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/chronic-respiratory - Australian Government Department of Health's web page with information, statistics, and advice relating to chronic respiratory diseases.

  • https://www.humanservices.gov.au/individuals/services/medicare/reciprocal-health-care-agreements - list of countries that Australia has Reciprocal Health Care Agreements with. Travelling to any of these countries could give you access to free medically necessary care.

Should you feel that you have been unfairly refused travel cover, you should first discuss this with the insurer by lodging a complaint with them. They will then have up to 45 days in which to respond, and if after that period you still feel the matter has not been properly resolved, you can approach the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) to lodge a dispute. AFCA replaced the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) in Australia on 1 November 2018.

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