Global travel and worldwide communication is expanding the expatriate market, increasing the need for comprehensive private medical cover abroad
As soon as their aircraft leaves home soil, a soon-to-be expatriate needs the reassurance they have adequate medical cover for their time abroad. Unlike the UK, where private healthcare could be perceived as a luxury preference to the NHS, international medical insurance is widely viewed as an absolute necessity. Expatriates need to be well informed by intermediaries who have done the necessary ground work and can confidently advise on the most appropriate cover. The following ten tips will help to steer intermediaries who want to become international PMI specialists.
KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER
1. The expatriate
Global travel and communication are continuing to become faster, cheaper and easier. The rapid expansion of multinational corporations is enabling employees to pursue overseas assignments with greater ease. Retirees can easily set up home in a warmer climate, while maintaining links with the UK.
Together, working and retired expatriates are key purchasers of expatriate financial products, including PMI. Understanding the diversity of the expatriate profile is essential to recommend the most appropriate type of PMI. While an expatriate can be defined as 'a person who works or is resident in a location other than their home country for more than six months of the year,' they cannot be characterised into any particular category of age, family status, locality or occupation. A retired couple, living in southern Spain, for example, will have vastly different healthcare concerns to an expatriate employee and their family who are based in Nairobi. The UK expatriate community is vast, with an estimated 1.1 million British working expatriates, currently employed overseas. In addition, a further 0.4 million UK citizens are estimated to be living outside of the UK as retirees (research undertaken by PPP healthcare, 2001).
2. Corporate PMI
It is also important to understand the requirements of companies looking to cover their employees. Often an HR manager will be responsible for their employees during their time overseas. Ensuring the health and wellbeing of employees and their families is maintained is crucial in influencing the success of their time abroad. Providing the best possible PMI cover is a fundamental ingredient in the relocation package. Choosing a provider who is able to offer medical cover according to the local environment is a key advantage to employers who may have staff posted in varying countries where health facilities can range from the state-of-the-art to non-existent. Look for a PMI provider who can offer the added flexibility of insuring both employees based in the UK and overseas on the same group scheme, to ease the administration for the HR representative. This will also enable continuous cover to remain when returning to the UK.
UNDERSTAND YOUR ENVIRONMENT
3. Global variations
While residents in Western Europe can enjoy a quality standard of healthcare, facilities across the world vary enormously. Intermediaries who understand what type of healthcare systems are available in each location will be better placed to advise their clients, who may be about to embark on their first overseas assignment.
4. Local legislation
Increasingly, different countries are tightening their healthcare regulations for foreign nationals. In Switzerland, for example, expatriates must produce a certificate of insurance, signed by their PMI provider, confirming they have adequate health insurance. In France, it is now obligatory for all residents to register with the French Health Service (CPAM). In Saudi Arabia, legislation is expected to be enforced shortly, making it compulsory for all expatriate residents to purchase PMI cover, to avoid an excessive burden on their state health system. Intermediaries must be aware of legislation that may affect the type of PMI that is sold.
5. Key providers
As the UK PMI market becomes more developed, medical insurance providers are increasingly looking to the international marketplace as an area of opportunity. There has been a rapid increase in international medical insurance providers over the last few years. Whether they be large multinational financial institutions, or local health insurers, they provide a wide variety of products to chose from. It is important that intermediaries select a provider who is well placed to survive the test of time in a competitive market.
THE PRODUCT MIX
6. Variations in international PMI
Depending on their location and circumstances, expatriates may be looking for entirely different elements to their PMI. For a young family, cover for normal pregnancy as well as unexpected complications may be a key factor. In contrast, many companies are looking for chronic cover for their employees, or the ability to cover them during periods of travel away from their principal country of residence.
ACCESS TO HEALTHCARE
7. Access to quality care with cost control
Established international health insurers make good use of their relationships around the world. A third party network (TPN) is a group of hospitals in a particular area with which a third party has established private and direct settlement agreements. Using their expert knowledge of the area, the third party would be expected to have excellent contacts with the local hospitals as well as confirming cover to the patient and arranging for direct settlement of bills. The TPN would manage the stay in terms of liaison with the hospital and resolve any issues raised by the PMI provider or patient.
PPP healthcare, for example, is continuing to expand its TPN relationships around the world, including Central, South & North America, the Caribbean, Hong Kong & Singapore among others.
In areas where these arrangements do not exist, it is vital the PMI provider has established direct settlement arrangements with local hospitals, ensuring that when hospital treatment is needed, the patient does not have to pay for the treatment upfront, and can rely on their PMI provider to settle their bills directly with the hospital.
In instances where local facilities are not adequate, expatriates need the reassurance their PMI provider will pay for treatment back in the UK should the need arise.
8. Emergency evacuation
In medical emergencies, patients need access to quality medical facilities immediately. In more remote areas of the world, medical facilities may be several hours' drive away, or perhaps even non-existent. In these circumstances, the ability to call upon emergency medical assistance will ensure the patient is evacuated quickly and safely to the nearest point of medical excellence, or even back to their home country. Many PMI providers have emergency evacuation built into their healthcare plans at no extra cost and this cover is vital to ensure the safety of expatriates and their families.
MORE THAN JUST MEDICAL INSURANCE
An international PMI provider will be able to offer the expatriate a range of additional services to make their time away from home less stressful. Examples include:
• Multilingual customer service staff.
• 24-hour emergency assistance helplines.
• Health information and support.
• Information about the country they are relocating to.
• Translation services
• Flexibility to receive payment of claims in the currency of their choice.
10. The internet era
Expatriates value the internet as a means of keeping them in touch with life at home. It can also prove useful if their medical insurer has a website which allows them to download an application form or claim form ' saving time, reducing the cost of phone bills, and overcoming time zone differences. For corporate clients, the availability of an intranet service is another example of how insurers should respond to the individual needs of their corporate customers. This is a key step forward in international customer servicing
While the international health insurance market demands an in-depth knowledge of the environments, health concerns and circumstances of an expatriate client, intermediaries who are bold enough take on this challenge will discover a diverse and fascinating market.
Expatriates needs the reassurance they have adequate medical cover for their time abroad.
Intermediaries who are bold enough take on this challenge will discover a diverse and fascinating market
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