London.—Millions are putting themselves at risk of sky high medical bills, with nearly one in four (24%) travellers holidaying abroad without travel insurance, representing a notable increase from one in five (20%) in 2011.

The number of people taking out annual cover – which is recommended by ABTA as the most cost-effective insurance for people taking more than one trip per year – has also gone down significantly, from 30% in 2011 to 23% in 2012.

Male travellers and younger travellers are amongst the groups most likely to travel uninsured. Men are 8% less likely than females to take out insurance and nearly half (48%) of 15-24 year olds travel abroad uninsured.

Too expensive
Londoners and those in the East of England and Northern Ireland are also less likely than average to purchase a policy.
The number of travellers who think insurance is too expensive has increased sharply over the past year. Nearly a third (31%) of consumers cited this as a reason for not taking out insurance, compared to one in five (20%) in 2011.

Many travellers also appear to be unsure what travel insurance is for.
16% of consumers mistakenly believe that travel insurance is unnecessary as the UK government will pay for their treatment if they become ill abroad.
17 % of travellers also wrongly assume that when travelling in Europe, they don't need insurance because they have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), but this only provides access to basic state medical care and will never cover the costs of repatriation to the UK, whether by regular flight or air ambulance. Alarmingly, a third (33%) of 15-24 year olds think this is the case.

Even holidaymakers who do take out insurance may not be fully protected; one in ten travellers is guilty of ‘buying blind' and not making sure they know what they are covered for.

This is particularly true of those enjoying winter sports, as a third (30%) of skiers and snowboarders do not take out the necessary specific cover.
Closer to the UK, two thirds (65%) of those holidaying in Britain travel uninsured, with seven in ten (70%) believing that travel insurance is more important for holidays abroad.

John de Vial, Head of Financial Protection, ABTA said: “The increase in the number of people travelling uninsured is alarming. In these tough economic times holidaymakers may feel pressure to cut costs but travel insurance is an essential. Now is a popular time to book a holiday and we strongly advise people to buy travel insurance at the same time. We hear too many horror stories of people who have forked out huge sums of money or not got the right treatment because they've had an accident abroad and been uninsured.” Lynda St Cooke of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office said: “It is important that people understand what the FCO can and cannot do to help British nationals who get into trouble abroad.

Cannot pay bills “We cannot pay medical bills so it is vital that you have a comprehensive travel insurance package for trips overseas. We also advise reading the small-print to check that your policy covers you for everything you want to do on holiday. If in doubt, contact your insurance provider. “Having an EHIC is a must when travelling in Europe as it gives you access to free or reduced cost basic state-funded care. But you still need full travel insurance as the EHIC doesn't cover private treatment or repatriation to the UK if you are seriously ill. For further advice and tips on preparing for your holiday, visit our website at www.fco.gov.uk/travel.” All sales of insurance by travel agents have been regulated by the Financial Services Authority since 2007 with many travel agents consequently choosing not to sell insurance due to the high costs and extra bureaucracy of regulation. Travel agents now account for less than 17% of sales of travel insurance.

ABTA warned that an unintentional consequence of FSA regulation would be an increase of uninsured travellers and has called on the Government to reverse FSA regulation as part of its war on Red Tape.