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Travels (or Travails) of a Senior Citizen

Senior Citizens are likely face a harder time finding travel insurance for themselves. Physical hardships cannot be avoided but certainly can be taken care of.

Harsh Roongta

21 May 2010

One of my batch mate's father wanted to visit him in the US, so he was running around to tie up a lot of loose ends like VISA, tickets and shopping for his grand children, son and daughter-in- law. Amidst all this a very critical issue bothered him difficulty in getting travel insurance. He had only recently recovered from acute Asthma attack that had required hospitalization for a few days. He was keen to visit his son and grand children but did not want to become a financial burden on them if something happened to his health while he was in the US.

He knew the cost of treatment in the US was prohibitive, hence wanted to be prepared for any expenses arising from a medical emergency, which may lead to hospitalization while on the trip. Because of his pre-existing disease (asthma and some other complications as well) he was finding it difficult to get a travel insurance. He requested me for assistance and to help him. I spoke to few friends in the industry on the matter.

Here is a small report on what I found.

Although a must have requirement for a senior citizens traveling abroad, insurance companies are not exactly enthusiastic about covering people who are above 60 years of age. I spoke to quite a few insurance Brokers active in this area and somebody who agreed to be quoted was Mr. V Sithapathy, Principal officer of VIG India insurance Brokers and the Secretary of insurance Brokers Association of India.

PSU insurers are reluctant to provide overseas mediclaim policy for the persons above 70 years says Sithapathy. Even private companies are reluctant too. Obviously the higher risk attached to a senior citizens makes it less attractive for them. They normally insist on a detailed medical examination for people above that age which as Sithapathy says may not be practical for their age. Most large insurance brokers are able to get the policy for their specific clients on the basis of their relationship with the insurance companies but this is a case by case approach which does not help the population at large. In almost all the cases hospitalization arising from pre-existing diseases is not covered. ICICI Lombard does cover hospitalization costs even on pre-existing diseases but only limited to Life saving unforeseen emergency measures, or measures solely designed to relieve acute pain. Even where the cover is available it is limited to USD 25,000 to USD 50,000 which is insufficient for any major hospitalization that may unfortunately occur.

Another option is to purchase overseas Visitor Policies from the American companies but even they do not cover pre-existing diseases and provide only limited cover upto USD 50,000 for people aged 70 and above. Besides they are quite expensive as compared to the overseas mediclaim policies available from Indian companies.

Medical costs abroad are very high as compared to the India and any medical emergency abroad may not only result in loss in health but also may cause major damage to your finances, if you are not insured properly. Thus, travel insurance becomes the most essential item on your shopping list if you are planning to travel abroad.

Please keep the following things in mind while buying this policy:

  1. Any pre-existing disease comes under permanent exclusion of the policy. So if you have had any pre-exiting disease before traveling, any hospitalization cost arising out of it will not be covered in the policy except for a very limited extent as stated earlier in the article.

  2. Any treatment, which can be reasonably delayed until the Insured's return to India will not be covered under this policy. The decision will be jointly taken by the physicians and qualified personnel, as the case may be.

  3. For medical coverage, the most important thing to remember here is that most policies cover to a maximum of USD 100,000 per sickness. However most insurance companies provide only upto USD 50,000 (USD 25,000 in some cases) for Senior Citizens thus making it extremely risky for them to travel to advanced countries where the medical costs can be prohibitive. So in case you get admitted in hospital due the same illness and the costs crosses USD 100,000 then the policy won't cover you for the same. If you take a sum assured of USD 500,000 then utilizing it for one illness is not possible.

Is the scenario where senior citizens pay more for travel insurance because of their older age, declining health, and pre-existing health conditions fair? No. But unfortunately, it is legal.

There is very little you can do about the age bracket you are in but you can do your part to make sure that you find the insurance you need for your trip, at an affordable rate.

So you should start looking early. Since you know that you are likely face a harder time finding insurance, you will need to allow yourself more time to look for it. Don't wait until a few weeks before your trip to start looking or youll likely end up not finding any coverage or paying way too much for it.

If you currently have insurance, then check with those providers to determine whether or not they offer seniors travel insurance. It is much easier to obtain cover with an insurer that is already familiar with your health and medical history, then to look for a brand new one. Also talk to the Insurance broker of your employer company (where you worked before retirement) or your son's employer.

What happened to my friend's father? Well we managed to get him a travel policy for USD 50,000 (of course with Asthma not covered). He consulted his family doctor and decided he could indeed take the risk to undertake the 30 day trip to visit his grandchildren.

So , if you are in a similar position, don't despair.

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