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International Healthcare Cover

International Healthcare Cover

If you live or work abroad, buying healthcare cover will be one of your first priorities. But, short of becoming a leading authority on the ins and outs of medical provision in your new country of residence, how do you make the right decisions about insurance for you and your family? Alison Massey takes us through some key points to consider when looking to purchase an international health insurance plan.

If you live or work abroad, buying healthcare cover will be one of your first priorities. But, short of becoming a leading authority on the ins and outs of medical provision in your new country of residence, how do you make the right decisions about insurance for you and your family?

In some respects the basic criteria hold good. Just as, say, when you are buying a new car, you’ll start with a price range and then look for a top-class brand, reliable performance and all the extras and add-ons that you need for your particular circumstances. There’s one drawback with medical insurance, however – you’ll not get a test drive.

The choice of specialist international healthcare packages is every bit as daunting as the number of new cars on the market. What’s more it’s rare to find two insurance providers describing their products on their websites in precisely the same way, which makes decisions based on direct comparisons all the more complex. That’s why many people prefer to talk to a specialist adviser who can cut through the hype and present a level playing field of benefits as well as advice on which companies are long-term players with a full focus on the international PMI.

Starting point

However, to narrow down your short list, there are certain essentials you can look for.

First of all, you need sufficient cover for all your contingencies. US$1.6m should be your starting point. A lot of schemes – particularly locally arranged ones – fall well short of that. Most of the leading providers will offer benefits of US$1.6m plus but it’s important to check that this includes specific cover for risks such as chronic conditions, as well as pregnancy and childbirth, if that’s on the cards.

Globally medical costs are soaring – far outstripping the rising cost of living. The reason for this are complex, but they include: an aging and more demanding population, advances in medical science and the real risks of an increasingly dangerous world. Many insurers will attempt to defer increases in the costs of premiums by either cutting the size or range of cover or introducing penal excesses (more of that later).

Number two on the list is obviously the quality of treatment. Look for a provider with established networks of hospitals and clinics. This allows for insurers and hospitals to work more closely together, thus creating higher standards. It also enables bills to be settled directly with the hospital which is a real boon to policyholders. After all, who wants to be involved in the hassle of sorting out invoices and claiming the money back when they are unwell?

Hands on

Local knowledge is also highly important. In the age of call centres it’s quite difficult to find an international health insurance provider with a presence in the region where you are living. But this makes a big difference. A local office staffed with people who can genuinely help you through the medical and administrative mazes is the equivalent of a local GP or car mechanic.

A small number of insurers have branches in key expat locations providing local service through indigenous staff. This can be a major plus as the staff will have a first-hand feel of the local healthcare infrastructure and be able to provide excellent advice to people, often at a difficult time.

{mosbanner right}Evacuation is the next feature to look for. The provision of a full evacuation package is pretty well essential in places like Vietnam and Tanzania but may not be so high up the shopping list if you’re based in Hong Kong. However, in an increasingly dangerous world, the option to receive treatment back home for major injuries and chronic conditions may well be important to you. And, beyond emergency repatriation, if you are a British expatriate it’s also worth asking if you will still be covered for private medical insurance on your visits home. Which brings me to the final point: flexibility.

Tailor made

Everyone is different. A young single woman working abroad may only require medical cover for costly “˜major conditions’; a 30-something couple with children might look for a full refund plan with dental and maternity benefits and retired sun-seekers will need to evaluate the increasing levels of medical and medication cover they need. In other words flexibility is everything. And cost is a big factor. Some insurers will allow you to reduce the cost of your premium by opting for higher excesses or a level of “˜self insurance’. You can, for instance, choose full cover for chronic conditions and opt to pay your own bills for minor out-patient treatment – the point being that minor treatment is more frequent and costly to administer for insurers to administer and so, by limiting your cover to major problems, you can bring the cost down quite significantly.

 

©GoodHealth Worldwide: www.goodhealthworldwide.com