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Private health insurance - which policy?

28th March 2012, Comments1 comment

Navigating your way through the sea of private health insurance products for expats on the market can be a long and tiring journey in itself.

With a myriad of health insurance options open to expats, just selecting the correct plan is a task in its self. Social health insurance services (if they are available to expats) that could once be relied upon are no longer able to keep pace with the ever-increasing cost of medical treatment, so the need to make alternative arrangements has become of crucial importance, particularly to expatriates.

For expats living and working abroad, accessing the right kind of health insurance cover can turn out to be no easy task. With all kinds of terms and conditions to navigate, not getting set up with the correct policy to address specific needs could result in a very costly error.

Below, we will reflect on some of the key items to consider when selecting an expat health insurance policy.

Your first port of call for health insurance should be your employer. Most international or global firms will have some form of health insurance for their employees, especially if they are actively having their staff members move from their home country to a new location. Your employer is also likely to have already gone through the process of understanding which policy is best suited to their employees. Furthermore, an employer scheme may offer discounted or fully subsidized cover. If your employer is paying the premiums, make sure you check whether it covers your family or just you.

Private health insurance

The next, very important, point of consideration is checking that the health insurance covers access to hospitals and other medical treatment centres in your country of residence. This may seem like an obvious point, however, it is your responsibility to understand exactly where and for what you will be covered. It is of very little use to have health insurance that will not cover the cost of treatment within the immediate vicinity of where you are residing.

Are you likely to be a long-term expat? If so, it will be worthwhile looking into to a long-term health insurance for expats plan. Unlike travel insurance based plans, these longer term plans can cover more routine medical treatments such as vaccinations, maternity and preventative care.

Expats are often a transient component of the global work force and you may need to look for cover that offers worldwide protection. There will be many examples of expats who have arranged medical cover in one country, travelled to another country on a temporary assignment, become ill and then found themselves without cover. A potentially very costly oversight. 

Private health insurance

Finally, check your policy to ensure that it covers other costs related to medical care. So, for example, air ambulance or extraction services if you'll need to be airlifted to an area where medical treatment is more advanced. You should also check that repatriation is covered within your policy. Not a pleasant subject, admittedly, but if the worst should happen, the last thing you want is to burden your family with repatriation costs of many thousands of dollars. A recent survey by travel insurer AllClear discovered that the average cost for repatriating holidaymakers taken ill overseas had exceeded GBP 25,000, with the average cost of repatriation from the USA, Canada or Caribbean being GBP 30,000.

Like any insurance product, the golden rule is ‘make sure you read the small print'. The need for expats to read the small print of their medical cover is underlined in a new report by Mercer, a UK pension and insurance administration company. The warning applies to not only the individual purchaser of private health insurance but also the millions of expats covered under a group scheme, whose cover may not be as ‘all encompassing' as they may think.

The report concludes that the difficult recovery in 2011 has left companies "questioning the feasibility of maintaining their health benefit schemes against a backdrop of rapidly mounting health care costs, as well as a rising tide of government regulation and legislation".

Bupa International health insurance: Find out more

It’s now simple to get international medical insurance for yourself and your family, wherever you are in the world. Get a free quote for Now Health insurance, which offers award-winning international health care with local expertise.

Russell Hammond / Expatica

Description: C:Usersmarina.penevaDesktopmarinaexperts - database, email templates etcexpert photos and suchRussell_Hammond.jpgRussell Hammond is an Investment Specialist and senior financial adviser for AES International advising clients worldwide.


1 comment on this article Add a comment

  • 28th March 2012, 13:58:28 Filip Declercq posted:
    Well, this may all be through, and it is, but why do expat advisors always neglect our social health insurance in Belgium which is not bad at all. If you can/must enjoy Belgian social heath insurance (mututal funds) you'll notice that it works quite well and has a cover of /- 75%. You can add a private insurance seamlessly topping up this social health insurance.

    It is a trend that Anglosaxon insurers advice expats in Belgium how they have to choose their health insurance, without knowing how the Belgian social security works. So, as a Belgian expat insurer, I see it as my task to explain the difference.

    Anglosaxon (British) social security is a system with State financed hospitals and doctors networks. There is no free choice, long waiting lists, and not so good service. So, it is normal that these people choose for integral or full cover health insurance to have free choice of doctor/hospital, to skip the waiting lists etc...

    Here in Belgium, the social health insurance is an insurance system and has nothing to do with the financement of doctors and hospitals. Doctors are independent free professionals, giving a good service, because of the competition. Hospitals can be private (universities) or state financed, but most of them are eligible for reimbursement of social health insurance. So you have a free choice, no waiting lists etc... and 75% is reimbursed. Belgian people only take an additional insurance which is much cheaper then a integral full cover insurance, and it seamlessly fit to the social health insurance.

    Coming to the expats now, as the Anglosaxon system is most known, and used internationally, international insurers copy the Anglosaxon integral insurance system.

    But have you ever thought that you already pay for social health insurance by contributions of your salary? Therefore, buying an overlapping integral insurance is a double cost ! !

    Therefore you should choose international health insurances which are more flexible, and guarantee a top-up insurance when you are obliged to use the social health insurance and give you an integral cover if having no social insurance or a system based on the British NHS system, as explain above.

    Is this only so in Belgium? No, also in Austria, Czech Rep., Estonia, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and Swiss there is a similar social system. Also the Belgian and French Overseas social security and the system for the EU-officials is based on that social insurance system.

    Therefore we launched a health insurance where people having these systems can just choose for a cheap top-up insurance and elsewhere they can use the integral insurance.

    This way we cut in double costs, without touching the guarantees. Expats have worldwide continuity, and save a lot of time by not always having to study and search for for new local insurances.

    Think Global, Act Local, brought in pratice.

    Kind regards,

    Filip Dclercq

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