How to buy international health insurance

How to buy international health insurance

3rd May, 2013

Exploring the international health insurance market yourself doesn’t have to be complicated. To help you on your way, here are a few common sense questions to ask yourself.

1. Do I need worldwide cover?

International health insurance is often best, especially if you want to be able to choose covered treatment in your new country as well as being able to travel back to your country of origin. International cover is also a good idea if you’d like more choice than exists in your new country. With international cover you may be able to get the best treatment in the most suitable place, wherever that might be.

2. Do I need my insurance to include outpatient care, for example access to a GP?

It’s a good idea to add outpatient care to your policy if you would like it to include things like visits to doctors, physiotherapists, dermatologists, pediatricians and so on. First, check the public healthcare system in your new country. If it doesn’t meet your needs, consider adding outpatient cover to your policy so you can take advantage of private facilities.

3. Do I need to add dental care cover for everyday or complex treatment?

Most policies cover emergency dental as standard, but what about the more everyday situations? Routine dental costs include check-ups, cleaning and fillings. Complex care includes things like crowns, repairs to existing crowns, false teeth, inlays and bridges. There will be a waiting period before you can claim for dental benefits, so you need to be able to pay for your own treatment for anywhere between six and nine months before the policy benefit kicks in. Dental treatment is often also ‘co-insured’, which means you bear some of the cost – typically about 20% – and your policy pays the rest.

4. Do I need routine maternity care?

Most health insurers include emergency maternity treatment in their policies but routine treatment is not usually covered unless you choose to add it. Routine costs are things like pre and post-natal check-ups, scans and delivery for natural and elected C-section births. The same as dental care, there is always a waiting period before you can claim for maternity care, anywhere between nine and twelve months. Insurance companies generally won’t cover pre existing conditions (i.e. those that occurred previously), including pregnancy, so if possible buy a plan including the option before you get pregnant.

5. Do I have any pre-existing medical conditions that I need to declare?

If you are suffering from a medical condition at the time you buy your cover, or have suffered in the past, it is vital to declare it no matter how insignificant you think it is. Insurers consider things like this to be ‘material facts’ which are important to the validity of your policy. If you don’t declare pre-existing medical conditions your insurance provider could refuse your claim even if it had nothing to do with the condition you hadn’t declared. So it’s better safe than sorry!

6. Can I manage the cost of my expat health insurance?

One way to reduce the cost of your policy is to agree to pay a certain amount of claims up front, called the ‘excess’. Most insurance companies let you set an excess and reduce premiums accordingly.There will probably be other options to help you reduce the price, so make sure you ask about them if cost is an issue.

7. How do I choose the best health insurance company

Again you could do all the research yourself or ask a broker to help you make the right decision. Whether you use a broker or do it yourself, it helps to have a checklist handy:

  • Make sure that coverage is available for where you will be located
  • Check the maximum limits on the international health insurance policy, and check the sub-limits too. You might find that a company offers up to $3m cover every year, which is great, but if you know you are likely to claim for benefits like alternative therapies, check if there is a limit, for example either a maximum amount or a maximum number of sessions per year.
  • Find out how they underwrite their policies. Is it by full medical underwriting or moratorium? Full medical underwriting is where companies ask questions about your medical history up front and let you know if they won’t cover certain conditions. Everything else is covered subject to the terms and conditions of the plan, including things like the standard exclusions. A moratorium plan is where you are offered cover if you have been treatment, symptom and advice-free of a medical condition within a set time-frame. Just bear in mind that every time you claim you might be asked detailed questions about your medical history and depending on your answers, the company might not pay out.
  • How quickly do they tend to make decisions and pay claims? Ideally you need a company who decides and pays quickly.
  • Which claim tracking tools do they use? This is important because if you have paid for medical treatment and want to claim back your expenses, it’s really important to be able to get updates about the status of your claim without having to call the provider to find out.
  • How many medical providers are in their network? All international health insurance providers will have a network of hospitals and doctors all over the world where you can seek treatment without having to pay up front.  It is a good idea to find out how good their network is in your area if you want to make use of cashless outpatient services, for instance.
  • Do they manage claims from one location or are there on-the-ground experts? This is a personal choice. Some companies group all their operations in one location, others base their service centres around the world. Centralised operations have lots of people available to take calls but they won’t necessarily have the in-depth knowledge of someone based in the same region as you.

Discover our expat country guides

Would you like to know more about expat living? Why not download our free eBook, The New Expat? It goes into detail about the medical side of expat living, family matters, accommodation, financial arrangements and more, designed to make expat living easier. We also produce specific Country Guides each month, from A to Z, packed with detailed information to help you make the most of your new life.

Join the conversation

How easy or difficult did you find getting the most appropriate health insurance for you and your family? Do you have any questions? If so, you can join the conversation by leaving a comment below or connecting 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.

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