Holiday-makers underestimate cost of medical treatment abroad by up to 400 per cent

AXA UK recently surveyed over 2,000 UK consumers* to find out more about their understanding of travel insurance especially of pre-existing medical conditions and the cost of obtaining medical treatment abroad.

2 September 2015

Posted in Product

  • The cost of treatment for broken limbs is up to three times higher than estimated and heart attacks up to four times
  • There is confusion over what is meant by 'pre-existing medical conditions'
  • Twenty-two per cent of people withhold information in order to obtain a cheaper premium
  • AXA launches new film to help customers to understand 'pre-existing medical conditions'

AXA UK recently surveyed over 2,000 UK consumers* to find out more about their understanding of travel insurance especially of pre-existing medical conditions and the cost of obtaining medical treatment abroad.

The survey found that there is confusion among some customers when declaring 'pre-existing medical conditions'. Most companies will ask you to tell them about medical conditions that you already suffer from, or have been treated for in the past, when you buy a travel insurance product from them. These are sometimes referred to as 'pre-existing medical conditions' by insurers. If you don’t tell your insurance company about these medical conditions it can affect your cover and put you and your family at risk.

Every travel insurance product is different, and will have different requirements. Companies have a responsibility to make it clear to customers when they are selling travel insurance what medical conditions they need to declare. Unfortunately it appears that many customers are still confused about what they need to tell their insurance company. If customers are unsure they shouldn’t be afraid to ask their insurance company, or check their policy booklet.

Over half of respondents (57 per cent) were unsure what time period they need to consider when declaring 'pre-existing medical conditions'. For AXA Direct policies any condition in the last five years needs to be declared in the application process, however this can vary from product to product therefore we would advise consumers to check with their insurer.

When considering travel insurance, consumers place most importance on the level of cover for medical bills (46 per cent) and cover for medical conditions (38 per cent) in the event that they are taken ill. Other considerations such as theft of personal possessions (six per cent), lost luggage (four per cent) and flight delays and cancellations (six per cent) lag behind in comparison.

The majority of people underestimate the cost of treatment for many conditions or incidents. The table below demonstrates the difference between what respondents think the cost of treatment will be and the actual average cost of claims:

Medical incident

Mean expected cost of treatment*

Average cost of claim (Europe)

Ear Infection



Sickness bug






Broken limb



Heart Attack


£12,000- £20,000

*Mean figure based on survey results

The difference is starkest on the more serious conditions such as a heart attack or broken limb, where the actual cost of treatment can be three times higher (or up to 200 per cent higher) than has been estimated or in the case of a heart attack where it can be up to 400 per cent higher than what people expect.

The cost of treatment can also vary quite considerably between countries, and when buying insurance the destination can have a significant impact on the premium. The table below demonstrates the average cost of medical treatment and how it correlates to the current price for a one week vacation for one person travelling to these locations from 30 August 2015:


Average cost of medical treatment in this country

AXA Direct Basic Travel Insurance**

AXA Direct Extra Travel Insurance**

AXA Direct Premier Travel Insurance**

United States










Dominican Republic



































**based on 40 year old traveling Single Trip for 1 week from 30 August 2015 with Asthma with one inhaler. Quotes are based on 28 days before departure. Rates are subject to change.

When travelling in Europe some medical costs will be covered by the free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). It will cover your treatment until you return to the UK. It also covers treatment of pre-existing medical conditions that you already have, however, it will not cover any private medical healthcare or costs such as being flown back to the UK.

Although over half of respondents (54 per cent) declared pre-existing medical conditions, 10 per cent chose not to. Of those that do not declare their conditions the most popular reason is that they feel it is adequately managed by medication (35 per cent) or that they don’t consider the condition to be relevant (33 per cent). However, failure to declare a medical condition to an insurer could result in any claim which is caused by the undeclared medical condition being rejected and force the claimant to cover the associated medical costs themselves. It may be tempting to withhold certain information in order to obtain a cheaper premium, which 22 per cent of respondents admit to doing, but in the event of a claim the insurance company can access medical records and may not pay out on claims arising from undeclared medical conditions.

AXA UK has found that the most common conditions that customers have not declared include:

  • Cancer
  • Stress, anxiety and depression
  • Heart conditions (ischemic heart disease, Atrial fibrillation, Stents, coronary artery disease)
  • Respiratory conditions (COPD, Asthma)
  • Alzheimer's / Dementia
Rebecca Brown, Head of Travel, AXA UK

Although travel insurance tends to be an afterthought when planning a holiday, it is the safety net that we rely on if an unfortunate turn of events occurs. Whilst it can be tempting to think that medical conditions that happened a long time ago or are well managed by medication don’t need to be declared, the reality is that if you make a claim which is related to a medical condition which you haven’t declared this claim would not be covered by your policy. It is important to remember that travel insurance is there to help and many thousands of holiday-makers continue to get peace of mind from their policies every year.

Rebecca Brown, Head of Travel at AXA UK

For those uncertain on what they should declare AXA has produced an informative film, available here.

The film is among a number of initiatives AXA is putting in place to build a more transparent culture into its interaction with consumers. In May AXA was the first insurer to display last year’s premium on renewal quotes across its home, motor and business insurance products. It has also introduced greater clarity around the common reasons why claims are declined and customer reviews of both sale and claims experience will continue to be rolled out online in 2015 so it will be easier for consumers to make an immediate assessment of the company’s service.