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Date: 09/05/2019

Counting the cost of medical treatment abroad

Nearly £4 million is spent by insurers every week on emergency medical treatment for Britons abroad, highlighting the risks of not having comprehensive cover.


  • Travel insurers cover medical costs of about 3,000 Britons every week.
  • Uninsured travellers often rely on crowdfunding to pay for treatment.
  • Medical costs can be extremely high for cruise travel and in the US.


Medical expenses for Britons travelling abroad have reached a multi-year high, with some individual cases costing insurers hundreds of thousands of pounds.


A recent claim of £685,000 for the treatment of a stroke in the United States shows just how much costs can spiral. Overall, the Association of British Insurers says an average of £3.9 million is being paid out every week, which is the highest figure in six years.


Despite these eye-watering claims figures, the travel association Abta points out that one-in-five Britons is still travelling without comprehensive insurance.


Crowdfunding campaigns


As a result, many families have to rely on the kindness of strangers in order to raise the thousands of pounds needed for the treatment or repatriation of loved ones.


Crowdfunding campaigns recently included the tragic case of a Swansea nurse who died after falling ill on a flight to Dubai. Her body was returned home after her family raised £28,500.


While not having insurance is still too common, particularly among millennials, some holidaymakers find themselves without cover because they have failed to disclose existing medical conditions or have undertaken activities they are not insured for.


Rising medical expenses


Medical expenses typically account for well over half of an insurer's claims costs. The industry helped 159,000 British travellers in 2017, which is the equivalent of just over 3,000 a week. 


Our own figures, which include claims for as well as BigBlue and MRLinsurance, show that we paid an average of just under £1,000 on medical incidents in the past year.


But this figure rises significantly for cases on cruise ships or in the United States, where the average is closer to £4,000. Other recent industry-wide examples include £187,000 to cover a 33-day stay in a Las Vegas hospital, several outpatient appointments and a flight back to the UK following a heart attack.


Falling ill on holiday is bad enough without the stress of not knowing how you will pay for the treatment.