How to use international health insurance

How to use international health insurance

12th July, 2013

People who buy international health insurance are generally covered for medical treatment anywhere in the world.  This means you can decide where and how you want to be treated: in your new location, your old location or almost anywhere else for that matter.

So you’ve got international health insurance – great!  But how do you know when and how to use your plan?  Today we’re going to help de-mystify the process.

It’s worth noting now that you must always check what your international health insurance covers you for and what it doesn’t.  I’m letting you know how to access different types of medical treatment so before you seek any kind of care, please check your own plan benefits first.  You don’t want to get a nasty shock and a big bill for something you’re not covered for.

Types of medical treatment

It’s really simple: there are only three basic types of medical treatment:

–          Emergency – when you have called an ambulance and/or gone to the Emergency Room/Accident and Emergency unit of a hospital

–          In and day-patient – when you have been admitted to hospital for medical treatment where you don’t stay overnight (day-patient) or you do stay overnight (in-patient)

–          Out-patient – when you need to see a medical practitioner like a GP or Specialist for an appointment

How to access emergency medical treatment

It’s a horrible thought but if you or a family member needs to call an ambulance or get to an Emergency Room, no doubt your insurance company will be the last thing on your mind.

It is really important to get someone to call your international health insurance provider though.  There will be special emergency numbers listed on your membership card and all over their website for you to call.

Once contact has been made, your insurance provider will immediately start liaising with the hospital on the level of care needed and look at placing something called a ‘Guarantee of Payment’ which means that the hospital will bill the insurance company and not you.

If the person being treated has a life-threatening condition, the insurance provider will also very quickly assess the hospital’s facilities and ability to treat them.  If the facilities are not adequate and the person being treated can be moved, it is likely the insurance provider will arrange an evacuation to a more appropriate hospital.

How to access in and day-patient treatment

If you or a member of your family finds out (usually on referral from a GP or Specialist) that he or she needs to be admitted to hospital for medical treatment, again it is really important to contact your insurance provider.

To get access to medical treatment, many benefits on your plan will likely need what is called ‘Pre-Authorisation’ or ‘Pre-approval’.  This means that the insurance provider needs to know when you plan to use one of the benefits covered so they can make arrangements for your care in advance.  There are two reasons for this – one, so you don’t have to pick up the bill at the end and two, so they can make use of any contracts they have in place with key medical providers.

Once the insurance provider has authorised your treatment and discussed with you where and with whom you will receive your care, they will issue a ‘Guarantee of Payment’ to the medical provider.  Similar to emergency medical treatment, it will tell the medical provider the benefits and value of treatment authorised.  Again, it’s really important to make sure you know what your insurance provider will and won’t pay for.  For instance, check for the big and small things including what procedure is included, the cost of the medical practitioner and any support staff, what kind of room you will have (private, semi-private or ward), drugs and dressings, food etc.  You’ll also find that things like telephone and television charges will likely not be covered so expect to pay them yourself.

Arranging in and day-patient treatment with your insurance provider should be a quick and simple process and some insurance providers also commit to making arrangements on your behalf in a certain timeframe.

How to access out-patient treatment

There are two ways to access out-patient treatment; either via your insurance provider’s network of out-patient medical providers or by paying for treatment and reclaiming your expenses.

If you have access to your insurance provider’s out-patient network, you can visit any medical provider on the list and receive treatment without paying. Check your insurance provider’s list to see if your location is included – you might find that your own GP is already on the list.  If they aren’t, it is always worth asking if your preferred medical providers can be added.

The process is simple: call the medical practitioner and make and appointment.  Tell them that you have international health insurance cover in place and provide details.  When you arrive, the receptionist will want to see your membership card and may ask you to complete or sign a form.  From then on, any out-patient care will be billed directly to your insurance provider.

One quick point of note here is that you should never accept treatment for something you know you’re not covered for.   In those circumstances, you should pay for the treatment yourself.

If you don’t have access to an out-patient network, you can seek medical treatment from any World Health Organisation-recognised medical practitioner as well as others such as Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners and some alternative therapy practitioners.

You will have to pay the bill but you can claim back your expenses from your insurance provider.  Most will have fast and efficient ways for you to send your claims and some also commit to how quickly they will settle your expenses.

Don’t forget that your insurance provider will only ever pay claims for treatment you are covered for and will deduct any excess, deductible or co-insurance you might have on your plan.

Some insurance providers offer online tracking tools so you can see the status of your claims as they are being processed, which are useful in being able to manage your own cash flow.

Explore our expat country guides

Would you like to know more about international health insurance? Why not download our free eBook, The New Expat? It goes into detail about the medical side of expat life, family matters, accommodation, financial arrangements and more.

Join the conversation

What is the most valuable thing you learned about getting access to medical treatment out of your home country? Do you have any tips people thinking about moving abroad? You can 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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