Healthcare Cost

Travel Insurance and Critical Care

by Rowena Wong, SGICU contributor

Critical illness can strike at the most unexpected times. You may have heard or read about Miss Eileen Chong’s appeal on crowdfunding platform,, to raise SGD$250,000 to cover her father's medical bills and air ambulance transfer for her father, Mr. Jimi Chong, after he suffered a heart attack while on holiday in Japan. Although Mr. Chong had purchased travel insurance, claims for his medical bill (approximately $120,000) were not successful as his travel insurance provider determined that his condition was due to his pre-existing condition. This incident led many to wonder about travel insurance and the “pre-existing conditions” clause.

Travel insurance policy statement regarding “pre-existing conditions” of various companies defer, but it can generally be summarised as:

Any injury or sickness (including any complications which may arise) which one:

  • (a) knew about before the start of the trip (for example, symptoms or manifestations have existed or that a reasonable person in the circumstances would be expected to be aware of); or
  • (b) have received diagnosis, consultation, medical treatment or prescribed drugs before the start of the trip; or
  • (c) have been asked to get medical treatment or medical advice for by a medical practitioner before the start of the trip.

An important difference between policies is the duration of the known pre-existing condition prior travel, i.e.: AXA’s stipulated time frame is 182 days while NTUC, AIA and Sompo’s stipulated time frame is 12 months. For example, Mr. X sprained his ankle and received medical treatment in January 2016. He recovered in February and went on a trip in September 2016 (7 months later). During the trip, he sprained the same ankle. Under AXA's policy, this does not qualify as a pre-existing condition, while it is considered a pre-existing condition for the other policies by NTUC, AIA and Sompo.

If one suffers from a pre-existing condition within 182 days or 12 months of travel and wish to be insured for it, one can apply for a single trip travel plan from NTUC Income Enhanced PreX plan. Higher premiums may apply.

Medical insurance is important in the current climate of escalating healthcare cost. It is worthwhile having some understanding of different travel insurances to know what each covers, particularly if you or family member has chronic conditions. But do not get so absorbed in the finer details that you skip buying a travel insurance because you just cannot decide on one!