Back pain is a common condition, and an area many insurers tend to shy away from. In fact, some insurance providers will explicitly not cover spine or neck-related conditions at all as travelling can easily aggravate back injuries and hence increase the likelihood of back-related claims.
Insurers will sometimes insure your back problems. Your ability to find cover is largely dependent on these factors:
- The type of back problem. This can be determined by a medical examination from the insurer or sometimes declared by your own health professional
- Full disclosure. Make sure you provide all information about your injury history with your travel insurance provider
- Understanding policies. Read the fine print, speak directly with the insurance provider and compare different policies. This is important as some policies may completely avoid covering back injuries, whilst others may cover you for back surgery not within the last 2 years
Insurance companies need an accurate picture of your health to assess the level of risk you pose to them. If you fail to tell them about a pre-existing condition, then they are taking on risk that was not agreed upon. Consequently, if you have a pre-existing back problem (one that you knew about but failed to declare), you will not be covered if you incur any expenses on your trip associated with that condition.
Insurers can void your cover
Most insurers cover a range of pre-existing conditions, but any associated with the back or spine usually need further investigation before they will cover them and you will probably have to pay a higher premium. Some back conditions are not covered at all, so you need to read the PDS carefully and talk to your insurer before purchasing cover. The following case study illustrates how important it is to declare any pre-existing back problems.
John's herniated disc
John was a few days away from a holiday to America when he injured his back at work. His doctor prescribed bed rest, but John was not about to cancel his holiday, so he flew to America, where his back became more painful as the days passed. Finally he went to an American doctor, who admitted him to hospital with a suspected herniated disc. John’s treatment came to thousands of dollars, but when he rang his insurance company, he was told that, as he had not declared his back injury, it was deemed pre-existing and he was not covered. John was forced to take out a sizeable loan to pay for his treatment.
If you have a back problem:
- Check automatic cover. Read your policy to see whether it is a condition that is automatically covered
- Speak to your insurer. If it is not on your insurer’s list, the next thing to do is to talk to them directly
- Take medical assessment. Take the required medical examinations, questionnaires or assessments
- Pay additional premium. Agree to pay the additional premiums
In the worst case scenario, Insurers may refuse to cover you back condition. If this happens, you can still get travel insurance cover without cover for your back problem.
Most insurers cover a range of adventure activities that people commonly enjoy on holiday such as bungee jumping, scuba diving, horse riding, ice skating, ballooning and sailing.
Yes, but usually with certain limits
If your insurer agrees to cover your pre-existing back problem and you plan to participate in adventure activities on your trip, cover for back injuries that result from those activities will be subject to special limits and exclusions. So make sure you read your PDS carefully and clarify with your insurer exactly what you will be covered for in these circumstances.
You’ll be covered if you cancel
If your insurer agrees to cover your back condition and your doctor then deems you “unfit to fly” prior to departing on your holiday, you will be covered if you cancel your trip, provided you do so promptly and advise your insurer immediately.
You won’t be covered if you decide to fly
If your doctor deems you unfit and you fly anyway, then even if your insurer has agreed to cover your back condition, you will not be covered if you have to cancel or disrupt your trip mid-journey as a result of your condition.
Insurers will not cover back conditions that they consider too high a risk. This includes conditions for which you:
- Have had spinal surgery in the last five years
- Are under investigation for a back injury that might need surgery
- Have been undergoing treatment for in the last 12 months
Some insurers may provide cover in these circumstances, but the amount of cover provided would be reduced and the premiums would be increased accordingly. Make sure you always declare if you’re unsure.
Herniated discs explained
A herniated disc is a condition where the central portion of a disc in your spine becomes ruptured. The most common location where this occurs is between the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae in the lower back. If the herniation is big enough, the disc tissue can press on the spinal nerves and cause extreme pain and discomfort. Treatment for a herniated disc depends on severity and can include physiotherapy, medications, cortisone injections and surgery.
Getting cover for a herniated disc
And just as treatment varies depending on the severity, so does insurance cover. If your treatment was non-surgical and over 12 months ago, you will probably be able to get cover for your herniated disc. But if it was surgical and within the last five years, you will usually have to undergo further medical tests and may be refused cover by many insurers.
- Secure a travel insurance that covers your back condition. Find this before setting out on your trip to make the journey more comfortable
- Have your doctor write you a medical letter. This will allow you to receive extra care from the flight crew
- Book a flight that is less crowded. Book a flight that is off-peak or outside preferred travelling hours
- Schedule times to take medication. Take your pain medication prior to boarding to give it time to get into your system
- Opt for an aisle seat. Make sure you can get in and out more easily and walk and stand as much as possible
As well as some back conditions, most insurers exclude pre-existing conditions such as;
- Conditions for which you are on a waiting list or are scheduled to receive a medical procedure
- AIDS or HIV
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Mental health conditions
- Alcohol or substance addiction
- Pregnancy (apart from complications).
As this guide shows, it is possible to get travel insurance for most back-related conditions, providing you find the right insurer and are honest with them about your pre-existing condition. You may have to pay a little more for it, but it can be worth it to know you won’t be faced with a massive medical bill if something goes wrong on your trip.
Picture: Tony Alter, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (image cropped)
*The use of terms ‘Best’ and ‘Top’ are not product ratings and are subject to our disclaimer. You should consider seeking independent financial advice and consider your own personal financial circumstances when comparing travel insurance policies.