Travel Insurance for Cancer Patients: What Does it Cover, and How Does it Work?

Planning an upcoming trip? You might want to double-check your travel insurance coverage before you hit the road.

Recently in a story by the LA Times, Kathy Mutchler described her experience with the travel insurance company the Good Sam Club. Kathy pays $89.99 annually for the TravelAssist program, which says it covers medical evacuations if suitable care isn’t available locally. Kathy assumed that when she needed to be airlifted out of a Mammoth Lakes RV park after being diagnosed with a severe kidney infection, she was covered. Imagine her surprise when she received a $71,000 air ambulance bill, and a notice from Good Sam that her medical evacuation was not covered by their insurance. While many travel insurance policies allow policy- holders to bypass prior approval in emergencies, Kathy’s plan didn’t include this language. Since she didn’t get prior approval for her air ambulance (while she was barely able to stand due to her kidney infection), Kathy’s evacuation wasn’t covered by Good Sam.

Luckily for Kathy, her primary insurer Blue Cross did cover her medical evacuation. Kathy avoided that bill, but do you know what your travel insurance covers? If you or your loved one is dealing with a cancer diagnosis, leveraging this coverage can make traveling more affordable and secure, but should be used carefully. Whether you’re a policy-holder or in the market for travel insurance, read on to learn more about how these policies work.

What is travel insurance?

Travel-related insurance covers financial, medical, or other unforeseen expenses you run into while traveling. You can usually buy insurance when you book a trip to last for the duration of the tip. Some policies, like Kathy’s, are tailored for people looking for more long-term plans. You can purchase travel insurance from travel agents, travel insurance companies, or travel suppliers like cruise lines.

What does travel insurance cover?

Benefits vary widely by plan and insurance company, but travel insurance policies often cover:

  • Travel Delay
  • Trip Cancellation
  • Loss, theft, or damage to personal possessions
  • Medical & Dental expenses
  • Emergency evacuation
  • Oversees funeral expenses
  • Accidental death, injury, or disablement
  • Legal assistance
  • Death of an immediate family member
  • Personal liability and rental car damage

Your cancer diagnosis may be considered a pre-existing condition. Most travel insurance policies treat a cancer diagnosis as a pre-existing condition, which is often defined as an injury, illness, or medical condition, that within 120 days before you purchase your policy:

  • Caused you to seek medical examination, diagnosis, care, or treatment from a doctor
  • Presented symptoms; or
  • Required you to take medication prescribed by a doctor (unless that condition or symptom is controlled by the medication prescribed)

You can likely apply for a waiver which allows you to be covered for losses caused by your cancer diagnosis or treatment, usually called a Pre-Existing Medical Condition Exclusion Waiver, if your diagnosis fits this definition. Insurance policies and waivers vary by insurer, but benefits often include:

  • Reimbursing pre-paid, nonrefundable expenses if you have to cancel your trip because your illness worsens or requires additional treatment.
  • Reimbursing pre-paid, nonrefundable expenses if you have to end your trip early due to an illness worsening.
  • Reimburse you for emergency medical care if you suffer a cancer-related medical emergency while traveling.

There are often limits to this coverage. Travel insurance is designed to cover unforeseen costs, so, for example, if you wait until you suffer an injury while oversees, you likely won’t find medical coverage. These policies tend to cover specific situations, events, or losses, so it’s important to read your policy carefully. Some travel insurance policies don’t cover individuals with pre-existing conditions (which could include a cancer diagnosis), or people over 70 years old.

How does travel insurance work?

Most of the time, travel insurance reimburses you for covered costs after you file a claim and that claim is approved. Claim processes vary by company, but you’ll have to provide proof of your covered loss or expense. While waiting for reimbursement, you will likely have to pay to accommodate your unexpected travel delay or medical expense. In some situations, (unfortunately not Kathy’s), travel insurance companies pay emergency medical expenses up front.

Tips for Buying and Using Travel Insurance

  • Buy early: The earlier to buy travel insurance, the longer you’re covered if your trip is delayed, cancelled, or disrupted before you leave. Usually, the best time to buy travel insurance is right after you’ve made your travel arrangements. Some policies require you to purchase insurance within a certain window (often 14 days) after making travel plans to qualify for special benefits, like coverage for pre-existing conditions.
  • Read your plan carefully: As Kathy’s story shows, it pays to know exactly what situations your plan covers. Do you need pre-approval for medical services or hotel accommodations? Receipts of purchases for claims to be filed once you get home? Read your plan carefully before you start your trip to avoid unexpected bills.
  • Call your insurance company when you need help: Many insurance companies have 24-hour hotlines for policy holders, so give your insurance company a call if you’re faced with an unexpected expense and are unsure about coverage. Representatives can explain your benefits and help you deal with your unexpected costs.

Make sure to research your plan carefully before purchasing— without her Blue Cross coverage, Kathy’s RV trip would have cost her $71,000.

For more information about health insurance coverage, visit

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