Barbara Zito envisions how the applications of international private medical insurance (IPMI) differ throughout the changing stages of life
For those living, working or travelling abroad, international private medical insurance (IPMI) offers one potential solution to cover healthcare costs. But do we need the same cover throughout our lives?
Here we investigate changing medical needs at each life stage, through our imaginary friend Isabella, a Brit in her early 20s who is about to embark on a big adventure.
Stage 1: Young, free and single
Isabella has landed her dream job working for the British Embassy in Egypt. She has contacted a financial adviser who has recommended she buy an IPMI plan to give her the peace of mind and financial protection she needs in Egypt's predominantly private healthcare system.
Key questions that will help Isabella select the best plan for her needs are:
1) Where will you be living and working?
The location will determine to some extent the level of cover needed. In Isabella's case, the nature of Egypt's geography and healthcare system, coupled with the amount of travel involved in her job, mean that she wants a plan with a robust emergency evacuation benefit. This means that if she has an accident or medical emergency but cannot easily reach medical assistance by road, the plan will cover the costs of an air ambulance to take her to the nearest appropriate medical aid.
Different IPMI providers cover medical evacuations in different ways. The most comprehensive on the market will cover the costs of Isabella to be airlifted, treated and flown back to Egypt, plus the costs of one of her business colleagues to accompany her when she is evacuated, and their accommodation and return flight. Some providers also cover an evacuation for a non-emergency situation when no adequate medical treatment is available locally.
2) What benefits are essential to you?
Aside from emergency evacuation, Isabella has decided she wants all her emergency and inpatient treatment to be covered by her IPMI. This type of treatment is likely to be costly, and she is not in a position to pay in advance and reclaim her costs back, so she has chosen a provider that will pay the hospital direct.
The insurer offers a 24hr, multilingual helpline that its members can call to get pre-authorisation for their inpatient treatment.
Although she is generally healthy, Isabella needs to visit the GP from time to time with minor ailments and recognises that these primary consultations could make up the bulk of her medical treatment, so she wants her plan to cover these visits.
She is looking for a plan that will help her maintain her good health, by covering the costs of preventative treatments (often termed 'wellness' on an IPMI table of benefits) such as smear tests, blood pressure and cholesterol checks, and vaccinations. One of the plans that Isabella is considering offers a no-claims discount, and she is pleased to hear that a claim against the wellness benefit on this plan will not make a difference to this potential discount when she renews.
Finally, Isabella has decided that, as she will be returning to the UK to visit friends and relatives and also travelling for her work, she would like a plan that is highly portable and will allow her to access private medical treatment when she is at home as well as overseas. She is therefore looking for a plan that includes cover in her home country, so has selected a worldwide geographic area of cover.
3) What are the 'nice to haves'?
Peripheral benefits that appeal to Isabella include cover for a compassionate visit to a critically ill relative. If a family member back in the UK becomes ill, knowing that her flight costs will be covered by her IPMI plan will give Isabella one less thing to worry about.
She is also pleased that her chosen provider offers annual travel insurance as an optional add-on to its medical plans. This means she can protect her belongings as well as her health when she is travelling.
Finally, Isabella is travelling to an unfamiliar country, and will be subject to a whole new set of safety and security risks. Her chosen provider offers access to personal security specialists who she can contact for advice on staying safe.
Stage 2: Coupled up
Fast forward a few years and Isabella is getting married to Ramon, a fellow expatriate. They are planning a family, so the most important consideration for them at the moment is cover for Isabella when she is pregnant and during the birth. Their current medical plan does not include cover for maternity treatment so they are looking at an add-on plan that will give them the cover they need.
Isabella needs to make sure she understands the waiting period on her maternity plan; a set period of time that must elapse before any claims can be made.
Other considerations include: does the plan cover both normal pregnancy and childbirth and any complications that may arise? Will it cover accommodation for the newborn baby, or any other treatment that might be needed by either mother or newborn baby?
Stage 3: Family values
Now in their late 30s, Isabella and Ramon have two children and have moved to Greece for work. They have worked with their financial adviser to reassess their IPMI needs and have chosen to change their geographic area of cover to Europe to keep costs down.
Their provider offers 'family friendly' pricing, which means they will only need to pay for their oldest child on their policy, while their youngest is covered free of charge.
They are pleased that their plan encourages use of preventative medical treatment and covers well-child tests and vaccinations, which do not go against any no-claims discount the family may have.
Isabella and Ramon do not want to take any risks when it comes to their children's health. Their plan covers treatment needed for new chronic conditions so, should little Pete or Janine develop one of these conditions - for example asthma or eczema - the costs of their routine check-ups and prescribed medicines will be covered, as well as treatment for acute episodes or attacks of the condition.
Similarly, Isabella and Ramon make sure their plan will cover treatment for allergies, just in case their children suffer any allergic reactions.
Stage 4: Flying the nest
A few years later, Pete is off to university in New Zealand. His family's financial adviser has recommended he look at IPMI plans designed specifically for students.
Students can benefit from having non-medical insurance alongside this - for example, travel insurance, cover for loss of tuition fees, personal belongings, personal liability and personal accident. Having all these covered in one plan makes life easier for Pete and puts Isabella's mind at rest when Pete is away from home. The flexibility of the plan that Pete is considering means he can choose the policy's duration so that it matches the length of his course.
Stage 5: The golden age
Life has been good for Isabella and Ramon. Now, as they enjoy their retirement, they decide to continue their IPMI cover with the same provider that Isabella has been with since she first moved to Egypt. This provider has served them well over the years - including recently when Isabella went through the menopause and had her hormone replacement therapy covered by her plan - and by sticking with it, they are avoiding any issues relating to age of joining that may occur if they choose to switch at this late stage of their lives.
Ramon and Isabella now have a substantial savings pot. Their financial adviser has suggested they budget a proportion of this for healthcare and select a large voluntary excess on their IPMI plan. This means they are making considerable savings on their premiums. They have the necessary funds available for small medical expenses, plus their plan to use in the event of a major medical cost.
Although still healthy, active and enjoying life to the full, Isabella and Ramon are aware of their mortality and are happy to know that their plan covers the cost of repatriating their bodies to their families when they die, which they know will relieve a little of the stress caused to their loved ones.
IPMI through the ages
Of course, Isabella and her family are fictional characters, and not everyone's life story will read like theirs. However, this illustrates how important it is to review healthcare funding at every change. Strong relationships with financial advisers will aid this and will prove lucrative to the advisers themselves in the long run.
- Barbara Zito is group sales and marketing director, InterGlobal.
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