Tesco's insurance policy questioned

An ill man was denied coverage under his Tesco travel insurance

Travel Insurance News - 11/02/2008

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Supermarket giant Tesco is being forced to answer some extremely difficult questions about the operations of its travel insurance division after mistakes there resulted in a man being stranded in the Caribbean in a dangerous medical state.

Dennis O’Keeffe and his wife bought a Worldwide travel insurance policy from Tesco for £66.99 before heading out to the Dominican Republic for a vacation. While there, the 47-year-old man contracted pneumonia.

O’Keeffe has been in hospital for the past four weeks, accruing hospital bills as large as £30,000. In addition, the seriously ill man has been told that he will need a medical flight home and care from a specialist.

Tesco’s underwriter, UK Insurance, has rejected O’Keeffe’s claims, which means that despite holding insurance, he won’t be getting any help paying the sky-high bills. The company says that because O’Keeffe had pneumonia two years ago, he is predisposed to have the illness again. According to Tesco, O’Keeffe is actually being treated for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), something that often leads to pneumonia, a condition that they say O’Keeffe had before the went on holiday on December 27th. As in many policies, pre-existing conditions are not covered by Tesco.

According to O’Keeffe’s wife, the pneumonia is “a one-off thing which he had recovered from”, so the couple did not pay attention to the clause about pre-existing conditions.

“Dennis went to the doctor before we left to have his jabs and he was fine. He's asthmatic and uses a Ventolin inhaler, but the doctor would never have let him go on holiday if he thought he was ill with something like pneumonia,” she said.

After the case was widely publicized in The Observer and followed up repeatedly by several parties, Tesco agreed to pay O’Keeffee’s hospital bills and the fee for his medical transfer back to the UK.

“We sympathise,” said a spokesperson from the company, “but we are 100 per cent confident that we are in no way liable. The customer was not covered by our policy due to a clear link with pre-existing medical conditions. We believe he was awaiting referral for these conditions in the UK on return from his trip. However, given the seriousness of this situation and as a gesture of goodwill, we have agreed to pay Mr O'Keeffe's medical bills and to fly him back. We are fully compliant with FSA regulations and make it clear to customers that it is their responsibility to fully understand the terms and conditions.”

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