The ABI's analysis revealed medical insurance claims comprised more than half of those made on a travel insurance policy, followed by transport cancellations.

Medical claims accounted for 52% of the travel insurer costs in 2018 (Credit: Rawpixel)

The total amount spent by travel insurance firms on medical costs for customers hit an eight-year high of £209m ($253m) in 2018, according to the Association of British Insurers.

It analysed 500,000 travel insurance claims made last year and found of the £399m ($329m) paid out, medical claims accounted for 52% of the total, followed by cancellation costs at 36% and lost baggage or money taking 4%.

Of these claims, 153,000 were made for emergency medical assistance, an amount the ABI claimed was equivalent to 420 people every day, or one person every three minutes.

Charlie Campbell, ABI manager of health and protection, said: “For too many people holidays can become horror days, if they fall ill or suffer a serious injury abroad.

“Needing medical treatment can be stressful wherever you are, without the added worry of how you can afford what can be sky high medical bills.”

Charlie Campbell, ABI manager of health and protection talks about the stress and worry of illness or injury abroad (Credit: ABI)

To give an example of the extent of medical costs abroad, the ABI identified several of the most extreme examples:

  • Heart problems in the US that cost £241,000 ($292,000)
  • Treatment for a brain haemorrhage in China that amounted to £200,000 ($242,000)
  • Fractured arm in San Francisco that resulted in a £153,000 ($185,000) medical bill

Although the average cost of a claim is much lower than the amounts covered in these examples, the ABI pointed to a 2018 study conducted by the Association of British Travel Agents, which revealed one in five UK residents travel without any insurance.

Campbell added: “The average travel insurance policy costs less than what an average family can spend on drinks and food at the airport, and will pay emergency medical bills than can easily run into six figures.

“Also, if we leave the EU without a deal, then the European Health Insurance Card will cease to apply, making travel insurance even more vital to have when visiting the EU.”


The medical cost of not having travel insurance

An ABI report released in June this year revealed the average medical insurance claim in 2018 was £1,300 ($1,600), with 3,000 travellers needing emergency treatment every week.

Along with the extreme costs noted above, UK holidaymakers injured or falling ill in locations without high-quality medical facilities may need to be transferred locally or brought back to the UK for treatment.

The ABI examined claims in which emergency helicopter travel was necessary and found costs could be as high as £75,000 ($90,900) from Asia, £50,000 ($60,600) from the US, and £13,500 ($16,400) from Italy.

Travel insurance policy holders who suffer injuries on holiday must also be aware, according to the ABI, that they may not be covered for certain activities.

Specialist insurers exist to cater for travellers planning to engage in bungee jumping, skiing, caving or any other high-risk sport.