‘I was just absolutely appalled,’ Elizabeth Watson tells The Independent. ‘I just couldn’t believe the blatant discrimination‘
Travel insurance companies have been accused of discriminating against people with mental health problems after a young woman was refused cover when she revealed that she had bipolar disorder.
Elizabeth Watson, 29, was told by the travel insurance provider Bupa that she could not be covered for a holiday to Spain, even if she paid a higher premium.
She subsequently started a petition urging companies to offer those with mental health conditions travel insurance at a reasonable price.
It had been signed by almost 34,000 people and led to “thousands” of people coming forward and reporting similar experiences.
Ms Watson told The Independent she had initially decided to use Bupa because she had been physically unwell as she suffered from acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome. Neither had anything to do with her bipolar disorder.
She was initially told she could be covered for £21.
But when she mentioned her condition to the company, she was asked a series of questions and told they could no longer cover her for any pre-existing conditions.
“I was just absolutely appalled. I just couldn’t believe the blatant discrimination,” she said. “Before I mentioned bipolar they were absolutely happy to cover me, but as soon as I mentioned bipolar, no matter how much I paid, they just were not interested.
“Since having spoken out about it I’ve now realised this is an absolutely massive issue that lots of people have a story about but haven’t had the voice to say before.”
Ms Watson said she complained to Bupa when it happened in August, but had so far only received a letter in the post the stating that they would take another 20 working days to reply, during which time she has already been on her holiday.
When contacted for comment, Bupa told The Independent it was “sorry for the distress [it] caused Ms Watson.
It added: “We aim to give our customers the most comprehensive cover possible, including mental health conditions where possible.”
It comes as new research revealed that many people with mental health problems have been told their insurer won’t pay out for any claims relating to their conditions.
It also showed that one in five mental health sufferers have travelled without insurance because it costs to much to get cover.
Ms Watson said she managed to find another company that was able to cover her for the condition for her trip to Spain, but required her to pay four times more money. According to the Bipolar UK website, there are only five UK travel companies that cover bipolar disorder.
Since launching the petition, she said she has heard from “thousands” of people who have had similar “awful” experiences.
“One old couple have nearly gone bankrupt because the husband had a nervous breakdown on holiday and he’d never had any kind of issues before, other than a doctor saying that he had depression once when he was about 20. That then counted as him ‘lying’ about it,” she said.
“Someone else said they were quoted something like 2,070 per cent more when they mentioned a mental health condition. I can’t believe the things I’m hearing. I can’t get back to them all because there are thousands. It’s been quite overwhelming.”
The petition, posted on change.org, has collected tens of thousands of supporters in just two days. Once it attains its target of 35,000, the petition will be sent Bupa, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, urging them to “stop travel insurance companies discriminating against people with mental health conditions”.