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What to insure when you’re expecting

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As the media overdoses on the recent announcement of Kate’s pregnancy, I found myself considering how she would have fared if her morning sickness had occurred a few weeks earlier on their trip across Asia-Pacific.

Ever since the political correctness of the EU Gender Directive (followed by the Equality Act 2010) was introduced in 2008, pregnancy has been a bone of contention to the travel insurance world.

Until then, there had been a consensus across the industry that travelling, and specifically returning to the UK, within 8 weeks of your due date was ‘avoidable exposure to peril’ and would be excluded as a cause of loss. The new legislation dictates that, as pregnancy is specific to one gender, no differential treatment or rating is allowed, regardless of how material it may be to the travel risk. The fact that other gender-specific conditions (e.g. testicular cancer) are not specifically mentioned seems perplexing within Equality legislation.

Exaggerating for effect, a customer who had previously experienced difficulties in pregnancy or childbirth and wanted to travel at 36 weeks pregnant to Spain is clearly a higher risk traveller. The legislation now prohibits an insurer from reflecting that risk or, if strictly interpreted, from asking any related medical screening questions. With pregnancy-related claims having been responsible for many of the largest settlements in the industry over the years, this added risk clearly has to be borne by other policyholders.

The response from many insurers is now that, as most pregnancies are preconceived, natural birth is not deemed as emergency medical treatment other than unusually premature birth or complications during birth. Provided that such complications are clearly defined, this would seem to fit with the conditions of the legislation.

The regulations include an exemption where a service provider reasonably thinks that providing goods, facilities or services at all or without certain conditions would, because of the pregnancy, create a risk to a woman’s health or safety. Is it not in the interest of the pregnant customer for an insurer to ask screening questions about current or past pregnancy and, dependent on the answers and the planned trip, to then suggest a visit to their GP or midwife to get specific travel advice? No change in premium but simply a steer towards personal health and safety.

Back to the Duchess, it is fair to say that most travel insurers would not class morning sickness as a complication of pregnancy, more of a consequence. In this case, she appears to have been diagnosed (by the media at least) as suffering from Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which is clearly very distinct from morning sickness and may be covered.  That said, we urge all pregnant women considering travel plans to read the wording of their travel insurance policy carefully before jetting off!

Press comment by Greg Lawson, Head of Retail at Columbus Direct