Insurance lift-off

        Source: Canstar Cannex database.

Source: Canstar Cannex database.

Just when they have the money, time and inclination to travel, senior Australians say they are being stopped in their tracks by the cost and difficulty of arranging suitable insurance. But don't falter at the first hurdle, specialists say, because you will be able to find cover - at a price.

''Once you're over 70 … everything is a pre-existing condition,'' laments Ruth, 74, of Bondi who has had trouble securing insurance since back surgery for sciatica, despite fully recovering.

''People are living much longer now - must we vegetate at home?

''There are people in their 40s and 50s who are in worse health than we are but because of their age they can travel.''

The general manager of online insurer Travel Insurance Direct, Ian Jackson, says that while health insurance is ''community rated'', travel insurance is based on the risk of the insurer having to pay out.

''With medical insurance, regardless of the risk factors, everyone pays the same whether they're 18 or 80,'' he says. ''With travel insurance it's a bit different - basically, insurers base the cost of travel insurance on risk factors, taking into account years and years of data.

''And the older we get, the statistics say, the more we claim.''

His business insures people up to the age of 80, with a ''loading'' for travellers aged between 71 and 80.

''Different insurers have different caps,'' he says. ''People can be disappointed when they start to look but they should shop around.''

Jackson also argues that going online, where the insurer doesn't have to build in costs such as commissions to travel agents, helps keep down the cost of what can be an expensive product.

Peter Arnold, an analyst with financial products researcher Canstar Cannex, says there are several products on its database that go up to age 85 and even some that have no maximum (see box).

Your first task is to find an insurer that insures your age group. Your next undertaking is to look at how each of the insurers on your shortlist handles pre-existing conditions.

''Some will be covered without further ado,'' Arnold says. ''Some will be covered conditionally - you might have to show your medical records or meet certain criteria. Then there are conditions they just won't cover.''

Each insurer assigns conditions differently to those ''boxes'', so while one insurer may not cover a pre-existing condition, another may well do.

Still not quite there?

Arnold says your final step may be to phone the insurer to see if the insurance can be tailored to meet your needs - again, probably at a cost.

''A few people might have to get their head around the fact that they may have to pay double what their son or daughter will pay - there's definitely a cost involved,'' he says.

A short cut could be to go to a group such as National Seniors or the Council on the Ageing, which have negotiated with insurers to provide a service to members and non-members.

''We've got very good at arguing the case with them for older people and we're continually out there in the market testing what we can get, trying to ensure that older people have the right to get insurance,'' says the COTA chief executive, Ian Yates.

''We work to make sure that extra premium or loading is evidence-based, not some lazy, arbitrary line in the sand.''

Natalie Nicastri of Odyssey Travel, a not-for-profit organisation with offices in Sydney and Melbourne and specialising in travel for the over-50s, says it has started using SureSave's TravelClear service, a simplified, phone-based medical assessment system.

This is allowing older clients who wouldn't previously have had access to medical cover to travel, she says.

An Ark General Insurance broker, Michael Klompas, says another alternative is to use a broker to find the right cover.

He says there are three things you shouldn't do: rely on basic credit card cover, travel with no cover, or travel with inadequate cover just because the policy is cheaper.

''A broker will make sure there are no gaps or holes, and that's very important,'' Klompas says.

Most major insurers have ''find a broker'' services on their websites.

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