08 November 2022

By Tim Baker

Yay! We can travel again! Dust off the passports! Pull out the Hawaiian shirts and Qantas bags.

But wait! What’s this? We can’t get travel insurance for pre-existing conditions without paying a fortune? So, if we want to travel, we aren’t going to be covered for anything related to our cancer, or our holiday budget is going to take a massive hit. If you are living with advanced, metastatic disease, or even just on Androgen Deprivation Therapy (ADT) for localised disease, your pre-existing condition exclusions might take in a huge range of ailments.

Travelling for the man with prostate cancer is a minefield and there don’t appear to be any easy answers. Holiday at home, pay a bomb or take your chances. On top of all the other potential impacts of prostate cancer and its treatment on quality of life, this seems especially cruel.

But we don’t want to let our condition stop us doing the things we love, like travel, right? The PCFA receives a huge volume of calls on this topic and the news is both good and bad. While we can’t give specific advice on the best travel insurers, there are some excellent resources out there to help you make an informed decision.

To summarise, the official PCFA advice on travel insurance for men with PC:

  1. Men with prostate cancer can get travel insurance for medical conditions and incidents that relate to their diagnosis and the side-effects of treatment, but often it’s not comprehensive (i.e. comes with qualifications) and can be prohibitively expensive for many men and their families. That is, few insurers will give you blanket coverage of prostate cancer as a disease category, but, for example, if you experience urinary retention or similar concerns while you’re travelling, you can claim on them under readily available policies, although be sure to read the fine print to make sure your eligibility to make a claim includes medical incidents related to pre-existing conditions. 
  1. If you have private health insurance, we recommend checking with your health insurance company whether you can access coverage or any discounts under your existing policy.
  2. Before making a decision on the insurance coverage you select, it’s important to try and assess whether the coverage you are considering represents fair value and adequate protection against any risks. You can do this by comparing different options via independent websites like Finder. https://www.finder.com.au/travel-insurance-for-cancer-patients
  3. As part of this process, you might like to ask the prospective insurer about possible situations that may impact you while travelling. For example, some insurers list standard medical coverage of pre-existing conditions, such as incontinence, although we recommend you check any eligibility criteria for accessing all aspects of the coverage you need.

It’s also worth knowing that insurers can’t legally refuse to insure you, except in very specific circumstances. If you think you’ve been refused travel insurance unfairly you can take it up with any one of several organisations, including the Equal Opportunity Commission and the Human Rights Commission in your state. Both prefer to deal with complaints less than 12 months old, but they may consider older complaints in some circumstances. Both Commissions aim to conciliate or mediate complaints, which means listening to both sides and trying to reach an agreement between the two parties. The Commissions can only make recommendations, rather than orders.

If you’re trying make a claim on your existing policy and your claim has been rejected or reduced, and complaining to your insurer has brought no joy,  you can lodge a complaint with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) on  1800 931 678 or go to https://www.afca.org.au

And if all this is making you nervous about travel, you could consider travelling to one of the many countries Australia enjoys reciprocal health care agreements with, where your medical costs may be covered or subsidised by Medicare. These include Belgium, Finland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK.

Having just returned from my first overseas trip since COVID, a short hop really to the Indonesian island of Bali, all I can say is, the hassle and worry and expense of getting back out into the world is well worth it. The cost of comprehensive travel insurance? Exorbitant. The experience of roaming the planet, forgetting you are a cancer patient, and gaining a broader perspective of life? Priceless.

Cancer Victoria offers a comprehensive fact sheet on the topic with excellent advice that covers every aspect of the issue: https://www.cancervic.org.au/downloads/CISS_factsheets/Travel-Insurance-and-Cancer.pdf

About the Author

Tim Baker is an award-winning author, journalist and storyteller specialising in surfing history and culture, working across a wide variety of media from books and magazines to film, video, and theatre. Some of his most notable books include “Occy”, a national bestseller and chosen by the Australia Council as one of “50 Books You can’t Put Down” in 2008, and “The Rip Curl Story” which documents the rise of the iconic Australian surf brand to mark its 50th anniversary in 2019. Tim is a former editor of Tracks and Surfing Life magazines. He has twice won the Surfing Australia Hall of Fame Culture Award.

Tim was diagnosed with stage 4, metastatic prostate cancer in 2015 with a Gleason score 9. He was told he had just five years of reasonable health left, but seven years on, at 57, he’s still surfing, writing, and enjoying being a dad. His latest book, Patting The Shark, also documents his cancer journey and will be published in August. Tim will be sharing weekly insights into his journey to help other men who have also been impacted by prostate cancer.