Do you plan to join the 25 million Indians who travelled abroad in 2017, with the number expected to go up to 50 million by 2020, and will you be securing your risks and liabilities by taking all risks travel insurance – voluntarily, by choice or because the destination countries insist on it? And if so, will you, like almost all these 25 to 50 million people, buy your travel insurance from an Indian company?
My wife is a frequent global traveller and we, typically, pick up a multi-entry multi-trip all risks travel insurance for the whole world.
The one we picked up last was Tata-AIG multi-platinum 45 days, which meant top of the line coverage, for all trips anywhere in the world not exceeding 45 days each. The validity was from 13 September 2017 to 12 September 2018.
In the cover note (incidentally, we never received the full insurance policy document) was a line to the effect that an automatic extension of seven days was part of this policy. This policy cost us about Rs15,000 for a full year, no single trip to be more than 45 days.
My wife left India for various countries on 2 August 2018 and was scheduled to return on or around 24 September 2018. Allowing for 45 days + 7 days, and a renewal when due, we thought we had the travel insurance well in place.
Around the end of August 2018, we received a reminder for renewal dated end July 2018, by hard copy and also by email, quoting the policy number in the subject line.
The renewal cost was just about thrice the cost of the original policy, all other parameters remaining the same, except that my wife had entered the 61-70 years’ age band from the 50-60 years’ band.
The renewal was going to cost me about Rs45,000.
So I called the toll-free number and explained the whole situation as follows:
a) Wife is travelling and needs extension from 12 September 2018 onwards.
b) How do we resolve the 45 days’ limit.
c) Why is the premium so high?
I was told that for renewal, she would have to return to India before the expiry of the policy on 12 September 2018.
For resolving the 45 days’ limit? they said there is no solution, because the seven days automatic renewal applies only if a flight is cancelled and there is no alternate flight option.
And as for the premium being high, I was told that is because she has gone into the next age band.
There was one solution I discovered on the Tata AIG website - I could reduce the cover from Platinum to Gold and the duration from 45 days to 30 days, at which level it would be a more reasonable Rs23,000 or so. This I discovered online on the Tata AIG website without any help from Tata AIG.
However, before all this, I was given a huge run around because I was told that the policy number was incorrect.
After a few calls, I finally got through to somebody who then told me that the policy number had been changed because of the internal migration policy of Tata AIG, and they did not think it fit to mention the changed policy number to me even in the renewal letter.
Imagine the effect of this practice if one is trying to make a claim abroad. Or if any of the immigration authorities had tried to re-verify the policy or the cover note.
The long and short of it was that I was told that unless my wife returned from Europe to renew her travel policy, her movements to other countries en route back to India were going to be cut short as she would be without insurance cover while travelling from one country to another, and that any solution by Tata AIG was simply not feasible.
And for any change in policy terms or a fresh policy – “you got it right, Madam will have to return to India,” is what I was told.
More than anything else, this was informed to me over phone by the call centre staff in the same tone of voice and attitude that they reserve for denying a claim.
A "Do what you wish" kind of message being voiced over the phone. They may have assumed I was talking from abroad.
It was at that juncture, that a person who is an even more frequent traveller, suggested that we look at picking up a short-term two-week policy from abroad, from destination countries, directly.
Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest.
It took me less than 15 minutes online to pick up a fresh cashless policy for the missing period: 12th to 24 September 2018, for all of Rs1,200 or so.
With a direct cashless linkage by the insurance company in their own home country to hospitals in their own country.
The only condition was that the policy needed to be bought one day before travel. In addition, the age band for senior citizens in their case started at the end of the 64th year, i.e., on the 65th birthday.
I did not even have to attach any ID or age proof. Just name, nationality, date of birth.
When I called up their call centre, I was told that they assumed we are filling the truth in the online form and, if we are not, then not only would the claim be in jeopardy but it would also be considered a serious attempt to defraud by forgery.
What about previous ailments, I asked over the phone and was told that, the policy was only for 15 days and covered any medical problem in those 15 days other than dental treatment not caused by an accident, full stop.
The policy issued by Tata AIG in India has lapsed.
I am now bombarded by calls and reminders to renew or revive the policy.
One of them even quotes the seven days extension.
On the other side, middle-level management are busy throwing fine print at me on why they cannot bend from their policies in facilitating an extension or renewal.
And more interestingly, how the seven-day extension is simply not feasible.
The policy issued abroad is signed by a human being who also appends his local regulatory authority's ID number as well as his competence and qualifications.
Insurance Regulatory Development Authority in India (IRDAI) also has a similar clause, but I have yet to see anybody (other than old-timer insurance agents and government insurance company staff) contacting me from an insurance company in India, quoting the IRDAI certification number.
(Veeresh Malik is an activist from Delhi, who continues to explore several things in life.