Monday, 5 March 2012

A piece of mind, for your peace of mind

And… we're back.

The week on Gran Canaria was excellent, thanks for asking; exactly what I needed. I've returned well fed and watered, thoroughly relaxed, and with less sunburn than I left with, which may be some kind of record.

It was a fairly limited holiday insofar as I didn't stray too far from the hotel. We had a daily routine of getting up around 9am, heading out for some brekkie and a wander around the town, popping back to the hotel around 11.30am for a wee nap on the sunloungers when my post-radiation fatigue kicked in, taking a trip out for afternoon lunch and drinkies, popping back for a late-afternoon nap and then heading out for the main eating event in the evening. A gruelling regime, but someone had to do it.

As the week went on, the periods I needed to sleep seemed to reduce and the fun bits in between to extend. Saturday – when we had to check out of the hotel at mid-day, right at the height of my daily exhaustion with a huge gap to fill before the flight at 8pm with no recourse to nap facilities – was hard, and I felt it quite badly. But there were no whistlers in the airport and I managed to sleep for most of the flight, so I got through it. And now I'm back, I definitely feel better for the experience. Not completely without daytime tiredness – it's 12.45pm on Monday as I write this, and I don't think I'm going to get to the end of the piece awake – but feeling much, much more relaxed and ready for whatever comes next. Taking a holiday has undoubtedly added a massive amount to my general well-being.

Which makes it all the more galling that I very nearly didn't go at all. The reason? Travel insurance.

It's not something I've bothered much about before. I travel light and don't take much on holiday I'm not prepared to lose. Clothes are just clothes, and those who have met me will know I'm not an expensive dresser. I do tend to carry a small media centre's worth of electronic kit with me at all times, but it's surprising what your standard household insurance already covers (this is a Top Tip, incidentally – always check that one out). Health cover is the only thing that has ever really concerned me, and as long as I'm staying within the EU I tend to rely on the EHIC (the old E111), that comforting little blue card which gets you the same cover as a national of any EU country you happen to be in. It doesn't cover repatriation and may require the odd up-front payment, but whether you find that acceptable boils down to your attitude to risk, and I think it's more than enough.

Last summer, before my impromptu jerky dance and all the horror that ensued, I went on a short Aegean cruise, and I did take out travel insurance for that, just in case of exotic drinking incidents while in Turkey. It was a simple process: I went onto one of the big online aggregators, shoved in my details, and was drowned in options to cover me for the week for about a fiver. Sorted.

So this time, I did the same. Although the Canaries aren't in the EU – they're largely autonomous of Spain, I suppose like the Channel Islands here – the EHIC still covers you, but I thought that with my current condition the extra security might be nice, just supposing I suddenly felt worse and needed my steroid prescription increased, for instance, or in the very unlikely event I had another seizure and hit something during the ensuing horizontal flamenco. So I went onto the same aggregator, this time clicking the 'existing condition' button, and declared my glioblastoma. And the results were quite different: instead of the hundreds of options presented to my lump-free former self, I was given one – for a sum which was effectively going to double to cost of the holiday, just slightly less than the price of return flights and seven nights in a good hotel for both me and Clare, just to cover me.

At that point I almost gave up. The holiday booking was a last-minute affair, and was only going to get dearer as the date approached, even if the flights didn't disappear entirely, so I didn't have much time to shop around by more traditional means. Looked like I was going to have to just chance it, or forego the holiday.

I gave it a further 24 hours, during which time I spoke to some medical professionals – no names, no pack-drill, but some were pretty senior. I wanted to know specifically what kind of emergency medical treatment I would be likely to need, given my condition. And the answer was that, while no-one would advise me to travel without insurance, well… none. There was more chance of me needing it to cover for being hit by a bus. Which, if you have experienced Spanish traffic, is a risk of sorts, but one I take every time I go there. I booked up that evening.

So, Mr Insurance Company, what's your excuse? Insurance is, as I understand it, all about risk: a kind of gamble in which I pay a small amount of money in exchange for you covering a much higher cost which you have calculated is unlikely enough to not happen to make it worth your while taking the bet. Most of the time you get to trouser the cash, but I get peace of mind in return. That's reasonable enough.

What you're actually doing, though, is merely predatory: you're simply accepting no risk at all, and taking the cash anyway. Either you just ignore the business, happier to take the thousands and thousands of guaranteed fivers from healthy travellers, or you parasitically suck on the fears of sick people, taking very large sums you know simply don't reflect the risk involved.

I wonder how many people with chronic conditions simply remain at home, crouching in the cold instead of grabbing a spot of much-needed rest and relaxation, because they're too frightened to take a chance they don't realise might be very small, and unable to pay these charges.

I saw only one quote. Well, actually, I saw two since I also got one from the same company for travel insurance in the UK: that sent me through the ceiling, since even it was in the low hundreds for cover in territory in which the NHS will provide everything for free. I know that doesn't form even the basis of an investigation - this is a blog, so I'm allowed to rant based on personal experience - but there's a story here. I may come back to it.

In the meantime, Mr Insurer, if you can sleep at night, do try to lose your grip on the rafters and drop on your head.


  1. Had a similar problem with my car insurance - I had, and have, no intention of having a sub-arachnoid haemorrhage at the wheel. And, according to the best brains in the business at the Western in Edinburgh, little chance of doing so anyway. Glad to hear you enjoyed the break.

  2. Slightly in the defence of holiday insurance companies, my (free with a bank account) holiday insurance paid out without delay when we had to cancel two holidays because of my husband's brain tumour. Getting the money back meant we could take another holiday when he was a bit better