If you suffer from a chronic illness and want to travel overseas, there are some financial issues that can sometimes come up. To be clear, when we say chronic illness, we include:
Cancer (including blood cancer);
another long-term physical injury or disability, or illness.
In this blog, we explore the following:
- getting and claiming travel insurance for medical and other claims;
- COVID-19 and travel insurance; and
- access to Centrelink when overseas.
We will provide information and tips that will hopefully make your trip eventful for all the right reasons.
There are two types of travel insurance
Non-medical cover: e.g. Loss of baggage, theft, damage, cancelled flights
Medical cover: e.g. Overseas hospital, doctor and medical evacuation expenses
Taking out basic cover
Non-medical: people with a chronic illness should have no problems getting cover.
Medical: people with a chronic illness should be able to get and claim on medical travel insurance cover for injuries or sicknesses that occur overseas or for cancelled trips (airfares, accommodation) that happen after the policy is in place.
Getting travel insurance is really important as some countries require you to have travel insurance before you enter, and in some overseas countries, medical treatment can be very expensive if you are not insured.
Travel insurance policies exclude pre-existing conditions from medical cover unless you specifically apply for cover for your pre-existing condition.
To seek cover for a pre-existing condition, you will have to:
- fill in an application form telling the insurer how your pre-existing condition affects you, your medication and treatment;
- get a certificate from your doctor (preferably a specialist) setting out your diagnosis, prognosis and confirmation that you are not a significant risk of getting sick when travelling – e.g. if you are in remission or your condition is otherwise adequately controlled with treatment; and
- lodge the certificate with the insurer at least a few months before you travel.
Hopefully, the insurer agrees to provide you with travel insurance cover which includes cover for your pre-existing condition. If the insurer will not cover your pre-existing condition, you may be able to appeal or make a complaint about that decision. You should get advice first.
COVID-19 and travel insurance
Most travel insurers offer cover for COVID-19.
However, the type of cover varies:
- Some insurers only cover medical and medical transportation costs if you contracted COVID or are diagnosed when overseas.
- Some policies also include cancellation costs if you contract COVID before you travel. However, they often say that COVID must have been contracted a number of days after the insurance starts and also before the trip.
- Many policies don’t cover border closures or quarantine orders.
- Other policies limit cover for cruises.
Claims on your travel insurance
For non-medical claims, you will need to get proof of loss/damage, for example, police reports.
For medical claims, the doctor/hospital may have to fill in a form or speak to the insurer. Hospitalisation and medivac decisions are usually quick.
If your claim is declined or rejected, you can lodge an internal complaint with the insurer.
Reciprocal Medicare arrangements
Australia has reciprocal healthcare arrangements with a small number of countries. This means that you can get subsidised or free treatment for essential care that can’t wait until you come back to Australia without having or claiming on any travel insurance policy. The treatment will usually include public hospital treatment and may not extend to GPs, private doctors, ambulances or medication.
The countries are the UK, the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, Italy, Malta, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Slovenia.
You can check the Services Australia website for updated information.
If you are unable to get medical travel insurance or the insurer you have will not cover your pre-existing condition, you should limit your travel to these countries with reciprocal arrangements or those that are nearby.
Centrelink benefits and overseas travel
Disability Support Pension
You can get the Disability Support Pension (DSP) for up to 28 days in any 12- month period if travelling overseas.
If you are still overseas after 28 days, your DSP will stop.
When you return to Australia, your DSP may be reinstated, but Services Australia may require you to reapply.
You can get the DSP for more than 28 days when overseas in some circumstances:
- If you were assessed as eligible under the manifest medical rules (e.g. terminally ill);
- You move to a country that has a social security agreement with Australia and has a DSP equivalent (e.g. the UK, some European countries, New Zealand, and others with differing benefits.) You can check the Services Australia website for updated information about social security agreements.
It is always a good idea to let Services Australia know before you head overseas.
Appeals relating to a decision of Centrelink are possible - get advice.
If you travel overseas, your Jobseeker payments will stop immediately.
When you return to Australia, you should notify Services Australia immediately, and they will decide whether to reinstate your payments or not.
Disability insurance benefits and travel
To be eligible, you will have to lodge a claim, including medical reports or certificates.
- If you are already on income protection payments, you will have to provide progress forms and medical pro formas.
- Most policies allow for payments whilst you are overseas, but it’s important to check your specific fund’s insurance cover.
- It may be difficult to get medical reports or certificates if you are overseas, but it’s not impossible. Telehealth changes help.
Getting expert advice from a travel insurance lawyer
Travelling overseas with a chronic illness and want to clarify your rights and obligations?
We are experts in assessing insurance policies and dealing with insurance claims. We provide free advice, so it costs you nothing to find out where you stand.
Contacting Berrill & Watson
📞 Melbourne: 03 9448 8048
📞 Brisbane: 07 3013 4300
📞 Anywhere else in Australia: 03 9448 8048
How we charge
We are Australia's best value superannuation/insurance law firm. Other law firms charge nearly double (& sometimes more than double) what we charge. So, if you get a quote from them, or have a cost agreement, ask us what we will charge you.