International Expatriate Health Insurance
This article responds to the second item in my previous article and was prompted by a question this week from a prospective client as to why not use business travel insurance to cover myself on an international assignment? It is a lot cheaper than expatriate health insurance.
What is an expatriate?
While there are many definitions, the bottom line is that an expatriate (or "expat", as they are commonly known) is someone who lives outside their own country for a specific or indefinite period. Some definitions will include that one must "work and live" in a foreign land with the intention to return at some stage. The minimum period is usually 12 months or more.
Medical Care is the number one issue
Healthcare has now become a major issue amongst the expatriate community. Healthcare around the world varies enormously: At best, it can be very expensive, at worst it is primitive or even non-existent, hence fully comprehensive international healthcare insurance to cover any eventuality, be it a serious illness or a routine trip to the dentist, is not so much desirable as essential.
Expatriates, in the main, will seek treatment and conditions in clinics and hospitals that provide services and standards of a level “the same as at home”.
Who is covered under an expatriate policy?
- If a corporate group policy, it will include all expatriate employees of the company and accompanying dependents. Individual employees and their dependents s are listed as members under the policy.
- If an individual policy, it will be declared members as per application form.
Scope of cover under expatriate health insurance policies
Benefits vary between insurers, however most policies include necessary and routine benefits such as maternity care expenses, hospital inpatient accommodation (as a private patient), inpatient hospital and outpatient physician and specialist services, pathology, child and adult preventative and wellness services, prescribed medicines, psychology, occupational therapy, dental, optical(vision) and other ancillary expenses, and some policies will include personal legal liability cover, as normally included under you home and contents insurance.
Guaranteed continuity of cover on permanent return to Australia is a very important must have feature. Unless arrangements are in place, waiting times for medical conditions contracted overseas, may be imposed on re-entry into the private health system on permanent return
In addition, tax and premium penalties could also become an issue unless correct steps are arranged prior your assignment.
As opposed to travel insurance, which is for short time travel, expatriate health insurance policies are designed to replicate the health system in your home country for the duration of your international assignment.
Exclusions and conditions
Not all Expatriate health insurance policies are created equal and there are some policies that have very onerous exclusions and conditions often accompanied by inexpensive premiums.
Be sure to do your research to understand how to ensure you are fully protected.
Below is an example of an onerous exclusion you definitely do not want in your expatriate policy especially if you have contracted an endemic or chronic condition whilst overseas requiring ongoing medical treatment.
“We shall not be liable for any expenses incurred after 12 months from the date of incurring the first expense following any one injury or sickness”
Note -Australian expatriates
Medicare provides no benefits overseas but legislative National Health Act legislation requirements follow you around the globe. Incorrect arrangements can be very costly.
Where to start
Of course, nothing is ever clear cut and finding the best suited solution for you takes time and research, as well as expert advice. So where do you start looking?
If you are fortunate your company will have a business travel policy or an international group health plan in place that will look after you and your family whilst on business travel or an international assignment.
If you have to arrange your own insurance and if understanding the dense wording of insurance policies is not your strong point, then the smarter approach is to engage a reputable insurance broker who specializes in expatriate risk and corporate travel. Like mortgage brokers, insurance brokers work with a wide variety of different providers.
What value do we add as brokers?
As independent expatriate health insurance brokers, we bring to the party our significant industry knowledge, innovation and creative problem solving skills together with the diversity and sound practical and impartial advice that only an independent broker can provide.
With our broad knowledge of policies and the internal workings of insurance companies, we can provide you with the expertise, knowledge and correct advice to select a comprehensive quality coverage that would work for you.
Mistakes people make
One common mistake people make when they are looking to buy travel or expatriate health insurance is that they look at cost before benefits, think they are covered and then in an emergency situation find out it is not covered or certain things are not covered."
We all look at costs. I’m guilty of this. I’m a specialist broker, if I have service that increases its costs, I’ll make a call. In the case of expatriate health insurance, make the call but you really do not want to put the premium before benefits.
From my many years’ experience one case always comes to mind. A $283 initial premium saving between insurer 1 and insurer 2 cost the client $163,000 in out-of-pocket expenses at time of claim. The end result was remortgaging their home.
Trust me, the last words you want to hear when you have an international medical claim or medical repatriation, for in many cases “tens of thousands of dollars”, are: Sorry, you are not covered for this treatment or, based on the exclusion noted above, you receive a letter from your insurer advising that ongoing treatment for your chronic condition, contracted whilst overseas, is;
“as from 4pm (pick a date) treatment for this medical condition is now at your cost and will be classed as a pre-existing condition at renewal” putting any future expatriate insurance at risk.
During my 25+ years as a specialist in corporate travel and expatriate medical insurance I’ve heard these responses too many times.