5 essential tips for choosing international health insurance

Like domestic private medical insurance, international health cover has many facets and the added complication of needing to protect staff working around the world.

So when you’re looking to buy health insurance for your expatriate or globally mobile workforce, it’s important to choose your plan carefully.

international insurance

5 essential tips to help you secure the cover that’s right for your organisation

Tip 1: Modular flexibility for additional cover choice   

Bespoke plans are usually offered to large corporates with 50-plus international employees. Their benefits, levels of cover and even their level of service can be tailored, whereas SMEs are often treated like consumers – given a range of fixed plans to choose from. However, SMEs that shop around can find providers that offer a modular product structure allowing them to tailor their package to a greater extent.

These plans give you a choice of in-patient and out-patient modules, allowing you to build the benefit program to match your precise needs. For example, you may not need much in-patient cover but want high levels of out-patient cover. This flexibility will allow you to avoid buying cover that you don’t need and give you the level of protection that you do.

You should also check how flexible the product is likely to be down the line. If you want to alter the level of healthcare benefit offered to a certain group of employees covered under the same plan, make sure this is possible.

For example, if you need to send a team on assignment overseas, make sure you can segment them from the rest of your group and tailor the cover around the local and workplace risks, without needing to change the policy for the rest of your group.

Tip 2: Look for a strong network

An insurer’s medical network consists of healthcare facilities located in key locations around the world. Each facility will have been vetted by the insurer and a service level and pricing agreement will usually be in place. This enables insurers to guarantee a better standard of care for their members, whilst keeping costs lower. In turn, this helps to keep premiums stable, because inflation in healthcare costs is a key driver of increasing insurance premiums. 

Insurers will be able to offer their members access to networks that differ substantially in terms of size and scope of medical services available. It’s important to ensure you have access to an extensive network which provides truly global access, but quality is also key. The network should be focused on quality-of-care and health outcomes. Size alone is not good enough.    

In addition to choosing a large network, if you have a particular facility that you wish your employees to use and it is not already in the provider’s network, you should ask the provider if they can tailor the network for you, and include preferred facilities. Most insurers will have a provider management team that can offer this under certain circumstances.

Another consideration is that in some regions of the world where there is limited medical provisioning -such as some parts of Africa- local clinics provide healthcare in place of hospitals. However, not all insurers have agreements in place to offer access to these clinics. So if you have employees living or working in these regions, you should check if your insurer provides this cover.

Finally while the network is key, make sure your employees are not limited to in-network facilities. For maximum flexibility, insurers should offer unrestricted access to any facility – whether it is within the network or not. In these situations the members may need to make a claim, rather than benefit from direct settlement, but it gives them maximum choice.

Tip 3: Pricing clarity for easier budgeting

For clients with fewer than 50 employees, when a new member joins or leaves your employee group you’ll have to budget accordingly, which can be an arduous process. Employees will fall into distinct age brackets with different associated premiums and depending on the policy you’ve chosen, some may need to be individually underwritten to price them based on their medical history. Both factors will mean the additional premiums for new employees will be uncertain, making it difficult to budget accordingly.

A relatively recent innovation affecting smaller clients, whose pricing is not rated on their previous claims experience, is a single adult and child rate. This is calculated on the average-age of your employees and dependants, meaning pricing clarity and budgeting advantages for customers.

Tip 4: Assistance

Medical assistance is fundamental to any international health insurance plan. If a medical emergency occurs you’ll want to know that your employees can access the advice they need to find appropriate medical care or, in more severe cases, be evacuated to a suitable facility.

With expats potentially located anywhere in the world, having the global resources to deal with any eventuality, no matter where it occurs, is key. When negotiating your insurance, dig deep into this issue and make sure your chosen insurer has the capability you are looking for.

Look for the ability to provide extensive assistance support all over the world, a large network of medical facilities, a strong presence with regulatory expertise in important local markets and a strong, trustworthy, brand.

Tip 5: Service quality  

When abroad and vulnerable, good member service can make all the difference to a members wellbeing and health outcomes. Whether an insurer provides their member services in-house, or outsources to a third party, you should be comfortable they will provide the level of service you need and ask to see their service levels beforehand.

Whilst outsourced service can be very reliable, knowing that all the services are managed in-house could give you greater comfort that the service your members get will be consistent and the insurer remains accountable.

In summary, with a host of insurers all offering a range of different plan options, choosing the right international health insurance for your organisation can be challenging. The risk to health can be higher overseas than in developed markets such as the UK, and international insurers must have a handle on healthcare inconsistencies across regions, different laws and regulations and well as cultural and political variations.

While our five essential tips are by no means a comprehensive list, it does provide a useful guide to some of the issues that are important when considering this type of insurance, and the type of insurer you should look for when choosing who should provide cover for your international workforce.

Marco Giacomelli is head of Generali Global Health

This article was supplied by Generali Global Health

Associated Supplier

Generali Global Health

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