Steep rises in the cost of medical care in the US and parts of Europe have led to a near-doubling of travel insurance premiums in the space of a year for people with certain medical conditions.

The move could add hundreds of pounds to the cost of holidays at a time when the ageing population is showing increasing signs of wanderlust. The number of people over the age of 75 going on long-haul trips has risen by 15 per cent in recent years, industry estimates show.

Pensioners planning to holiday in the US are being particularly hit by the price rises.

For example, a 69-year-old with diabetes traveling to the US for a two-week holiday this year would pay £248 for cover, up from £134 last year, according to insurer Columbus Direct.

A 79-year-old with angina on the same trip would pay £576 this year compared to £303 last year, an increase of 90 per cent, Columbus said.

The reason for the price rise is soaring “medical inflation” in parts of Europe and the US. According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the average bill for medical treatment in the US is almost £5,000. As well as hospitals charging more, the cost has been pushed up by unfavourable currency exchange rates and the rising price of aviation fuel, mean that the cost of flying someone who has fallen ill back home have risen sharply.

There has also been an increase in the number of claims by elderly people, which has further inflated premiums.

Some elderly travellers have complained that they are unable to get travel insurance at all.

Bob Champion, the 63-year-old jockey who beat cancer to win the 1981 Grand National on Aldaniti, said that he was recently shocked when he was refused travel insurance by 10 companies on the basis that he has a small pre-existing heart condition.

Mr Champion, who makes money giving lectures on cruise ships, said: “I am fitter than I have ever been but they told me I am too much of a risk.”

The jockey, who was eventually given cover by insurer AllClear, said: “It wasn’t that I was offered cover at an over-inflated premium. I simply couldn’t get an insurer willing to give me a quote at all.”

Michelle Mitchell, charity director general at Age UK, said: “It is shocking that people can be discriminated against just because of their age. A date on a birth certificate should not mean that you have to forgo holidays abroad.”

A spokesman for Saga said that although insurance costs for people with pre-existing medical conditions has risen, they have fallen for people with no such conditions.

Some insurance companies have also in recent weeks lowered the age threshold at which they are prepared to give medical cover to pensioners.

At the end of January American Express reduced the age limit at which it is willing to provide its Platinum Card holders with medical cover from 80 to 70.

Greg Lawson, head of retail at Columbus Direct, said that the increased cost of claims from travellers means that many insurance companies have “suffered financially”. He said that the rising costs of medical care in the US and parts of Europe has meant that premiums have had to also rise accordingly.

“Insurers need to increase premiums, particularly in respect of older customers traveling worldwide where the risk is highest of having a high-cost medical incident,” said Mr Lawson.

However he said that when Columbus is unable to provide travel insurance to a person, it will recommend another company that is able to.

A spokesman for American Express said that as of January 25 it reduced from 80 to 70 the age at which its Platinum Card holders can get “medical assistance and expenses” cover on their travel insurance.

“The changes are being made due to the rising cost of medical treatment and to ensure that we continue to offer an overall comprehensive insurance product while not passing on any additional costs to our cardholders,” the spokesman said.

Ms Mitchell said that last month the Government announced a delay in the implementation of rules under the Equality Act that would have outlawed unjustified discrimination in goods and services.

“It is vital that the Government acts to stop insurance companies from excluding this growing sector of the population. In the meantime, customers should shop around the best offers that suit their individual needs,” she said.

Article from the Telegraph