Professionals working abroad, and their families, have particular needs for health insurance. When you are away from your home country, access to quality healthcare is essential - both for emergencies and also general medical treatments that may be required from time to time. It is important to plan for the uncertainty of illness or injury, to make sure you can afford private medical care at the times you need it.
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National health insurance schemes have restrictions on cover when travelling abroad - they are not designed for those planning to permanently move abroad and cover often lapses after 90 days. That’s why you’ll need to look at options available from the specialist firms that provide international cover for expatriates. There are a wide range of policies available and numerous international medical insurance institutions. Using a broker will save you time and also help make sure you find the most cost-effective solution, without missing an area of cover that might be important to you.
What to look out for
All medical insurance plans will have some kind of schedule that lists what treatments will be covered and what the financial limits are. An outline of the schedule will be given in the brochure or marketing literature. But there are some other factors that can be important to keep in mind when comparing medical insurance and trying to choose the best option.
Most plans will have a range of options for geographic coverage. Often, countries with high costs for medical treatment (such as the USA) may be excluded except for the most expensive cover. Make sure you choose country coverage that suits your needs, and if there is the possibility that you will relocate in the future, check that insurance cover still applies.
Pre-Existing and Chronic Conditions
If you have a pre-existing condition, it’s worthwhile to check whether ‘moratoria’ cover is provided by the policy. For example some plans will provide cover for treatment of a condition that has required no consultation or treatment of any kind for a two-year period (or longer) once the plan is in force. This can make the application quicker with simpler declarations, but may not be appropriate if pre-existing conditions are not firmly in the past. Check also that if you develop a chronic condition then the plan will cover routine maintenance, for example insulin and regular check-ups if you become diabetic.
Choice of Hospital / Treatment Location
Most health insurance plans for expats will allow you to choose the hospital where you obtain treatment. Some also allow you to choose the country location of treatment, which may be a good option depending on your family circumstances and the likelihood that you would want to repatriate in the event of a medical emergency or a need for longer-term treatment and recovery.
Method of Claim / Reimbursement
Some of the larger insurance companies have financial arrangements in place with the major hospital groups worldwide. This means that payment for treatment is guaranteed by the insurance company, and you don’t need to settle bills directly yourself. Other policies may require you to pay hospital bills personally, and then recover those costs by claiming a refund under the policy.
Flexibility of Premium Payments
Most, but not all, providers will allow you to pay your health insurance premiums on a monthly basis. However they may charge you slight more than the annual rate for this flexibility.
Cover For Alternative and Complementary Medicine
In addition to traditional inpatient and outpatient care, some insurance companies will also cover treatments such as homeopathy, acupuncture and chiropractic treatment.
Emergency Medical Advice and Assistance
Most expat insurance companies provide international emergency assistance services, for example a free medical consultation hotline in your own language, where you can obtain advice and to help you evaluate any condition and refer you to an appropriate hospital.
Cover For Emergency Evacuation
Emergency evacuation to a suitable hospital, when medically required, is usually provided by international medical insurance plans. Often travelling costs of a companion will be covered also.
Level Of Annual Deductibles or Excess
By accepting a certain ‘excess’ sum to be deducted from your claims, you may find that the annual cost of insurance is reduced by a useful amount. But check the deductible figure and the terms.
Continuous Transfer Terms
If you are transferring out of a group scheme provided by your company, or switching providers for your private health insurance cover, you may find that some insurance firms will offer you cover on underwriting terms as though you have had continuous cover with that firm. This will reduce the annual cost of insurance.
Age Limits and Renewability
Check whether there are any stated reasons for non-renewability of the insurance policy (such as reaching a specific age-limit) and the terms of any renewability clause.
Other Free Benefits
Many plans offer partial or full cover for free health checks, perhaps once a year or every two years. Sometimes these benefits will only activate after a certain period of continuous cover.
Consider What Cover You Need
As you can see from the above list, even though many health insurance plans for expatriates generally cover similar ground, there can be some important differences that are worth considering and discussing with your adviser before joining a scheme.