Expat life – What to do if you get sick – A spotlight on managing chronic conditions

Expat life – What to do if you get sick – A spotlight on managing chronic conditions

18th October, 2013

If you become seriously ill in your home country, you know exactly what to do. You’re familiar with the healthcare system and you probably feel safe, at ease with what needs to be done, when, where and by whom. But what if you suffer a chronic disease as an expat, while living abroad? And what’s the statistical risk of it happening to you?    

How common are chronic diseases worldwide?

Chronic diseases, which aren’t usually communicable, typically last a long time and progress slowly. They include things like heart disease, strokes, cancers, respiratory diseases and diabetes, and together they are the planet’s leading causes of mortality, representing 63% of all deaths worldwide. As a general rule, the poorer the country the more chronic disease is experienced there. According to the World Health Organization, if you live in a nation where average incomes fall into the low and middle brackets, you are more likely to encounter chronic illness than people who live in wealthier countries.

Action to take when buying international health insurance

Wherever you live in the world, if you’re away from your home country international health insurance is likely to be a must, so what do you need to look out for, bearing chronic illnesses in mind.

1.  Check you are covered It’s vital to check that your plan covers the ongoing maintenance of chronic conditions. You also need to find out what the limits are, in other words is there a maximum monetary value or period of time applicable to the benefit. Some medical insurance companies actually provide benefits for specific chronic conditions like renal dialysis and cancer. Ideally you should consider buying a plan that covers all the major chronic illnesses we’ve mentioned or consider if cover for a specific condition is important to you based on your lifestyle or the location of your new home country.

2.  More information to find out about your policy It is also important to establish these facts early on rather than waiting until it’s too late.

  • Which medical conditions and benefits are not covered on your plan. The exclusions are just as important as what’s included, giving you a clear picture from both perspectives.
  • How long the cover lasts. Make a note of your plan renewal date so you can renew in good time. If it lapses and you have to reapply, you might not qualify for benefits concerning your chronic illness, and you could be left stranded part-way through treatment.
  • Check your plan covers you for all the kinds of treatment you want to be covered for, including in-patient, day-patient and out-patient treatment.

3.  What about pre-existing conditions? This is vitally important. Many international health insurance plans exclude pre-existing conditions, in other words conditions that have already been diagnosed. This means, in plain language, that if you already suffer from a condition, your international health insurance provider cannot cover it. Which means your costs are not covered and you cannot claim for any aspect of the treatment you need. If you already have a health insurance plan and you want to switch it, it’s crucial that you find out if you can transfer it with any pre-existing conditions included. It’s important to sort things out properly in good time, so you can maintain the same levels of cover with your new provider.

4.  What to do if you are diagnosed with a chronic condition? Time is often of the essence with chronic conditions. The sooner you get treatment, the better. See a local doctor promptly, and set the international health insurance provider wheels in motion early, too. They will help you navigate the healthcare system in your new country, so you can concentrate on getting better. All the best health insurers provide helplines, giving you access to an expert over the phone. Some even offer access to qualified specialist medical people over the phone. We’re a good example. All our customers have access to Health at Hand, a telephone health information service open 24/7/365, with a team of expert nurses, pharmacists and counsellors available to answer your questions and give sound professional advice. Which is exactly what you need when you’re worried. While they don’t diagnose or prescribe over the phone, and are not supposed to replace your local GP, they are a mine of useful information.

Any questions about international health insurance and chronic illness?

Do you have any questions? Feel free to leave a comment below, or connect with us on Twitter @now_health or on the Now Health Facebook page so we can share them with our readers.  

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Alison Massey

Group Marketing Director

Now Health International

Alison Massey is a 15-year digital marketing veteran, who has spent the last seven years using social media to help expats and soon to be expats find out what to expect from a life overseas. An expat living in Hong Kong herself, Alison is the Group Marketing Director of Now Health, the award-winning international health insurance provider.

Contact Alison Massey

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