The international health insurance market has changed significantly over the last decade with many n...
The international health insurance market has changed significantly over the last decade with many new providers entering the fray and existing providers improving their products. Given the number of insurers to choose from, the prospect of finding the best cover at an affordable premium is a daunting one.
Most insurers provide a range of benefits to choose from which allows the customer choice between basic cover and comprehensive cover. Which level to choose depends on the individual's circumstances, location, income and so on. However, it is difficult to predict what events will happen in a foreign country for which health insurance cover may be required. Disasters such as hurricanes in the US and fires in Indonesia are unpredictable, but if an injury occurs as a consequence, it is a big problem to be caught without insurance.
Take the example of Mr and Mrs X, who were holidaying in Canada recently. A road accident left the couple with serious injuries and the problem was their policy only provided limited cover in Canada. Given the severity of their injuries, they were required to stay beyond their limit. This meant high medical expenses which they were unable to claim for, adding to the trauma of their injuries. However, in this instance, the case was satisfactorily resolved and the couple in question were eventually repatriated.
International health insurance companies generally provide a basic plan that covers medical treatment costs in the event of illness or injury. This is usually based around covering the costs of accident and emergency services and the provision of inpatient care while in hospital. This level of cover can provide satisfactory cover for single individuals working abroad on short-term contracts who may not feel the need for full, comprehensive cover. However, for individuals and families working abroad, it is wise to pay for the most comprehensive cover that can be afforded.
One of the most important benefits to include when based in an isolated location is medical evacuation cover. This benefit is included as standard on some plans but can be an add-on with other policies, and provides the insured with the means to be repatriated or at least transported to a country where the best treatment can be received.
To be ill or injured while in a foreign country without the means to leave is a nightmarish scenario at best, but consider the case of one woman who was involved in an air crash in a remote part of Papua New Guinea. She was the sole survivor and sustained serious injuries. Fortunately, she was evacuated by her insurance company to a hospital in Australia, where she made a full recovery. This is an extreme example, but even if a less traumatic incident occurs and the appropriate medical facilities are not available locally, the insured may be glad this benefit is included on their policy.
When purchasing medical insurance, it is also important to clarify what is covered under the policy and what is not. This involves reading the small print in the terms and conditions of the particular health plan under consideration. For instance, one policyholder was adamant he could use his physiotherapy benefit to take advantage of certain massage parlours of questionable repute. The crestfallen individual was told this type of 'massage' was not covered under his policy and the claim was rejected.
Insurance companies provide terms and conditions to help the insured person to fathom the depth of their cover. Some rules can be vague and it is important to get clarity from the insurance company before paying a premium. The terms and conditions of any health insurance policy will also include a list of exclusions. Typical examples are injuries as result of war, uprisings and the like, AIDS, cryopreservation, optical wear, drug abuse and birth defects, to name but a few. When abroad, most people exercise caution and would avoid scenarios that would expose them to harm. However, take the case of the individual in Kenya who received a deep cut to his leg. He underwent an immediate blood transfusion at the bequest of his physician, which was paid for by the insurance company. Subsequently, he started to feel unwell and was diagnosed with AIDS as a direct result of the transfusion.
Whatever policy is chosen, it is always advisable to be prepared. Many insurers advise clients in Third World countries to carry a supply of their own blood which would have avoided the aforementioned tragedy. A health insurance company should be able to offer advice on facilities through their emergency assistance companies or, alternatively, provide a list of recommended hospitals to assist in making a choice.
There are many companies in the marketplace that offer excellent but similar products. All aspects of the product should be considered, including the after-sales service, which means claims handling. It is all well and good to purchase a policy that offers all the benefits possible, but if the claims service is poor the policyholder will soon become frustrated with the provider.
The way to work through this maze is either to take the advice of a friend who has had good experiences with a particular company or consult an insurance broker. Alternatively, obtain information from a range of companies and work out the pros and cons in that way. It is up to the insurance company to sell the product, so getting all the answers before paying for a policy is crucial.
Dianne Brown is marketing manager at MediCare International
Claim from SocGen's global markets division
Third annual Hampton-Alexander review
European Commission yields to pressure
Numbers in Adviserland
Retirement sector trends