14 common questions regarding expatriate medical insurance in Asia
Written by Carl Turner on May 28, 2017.
1. Do I really need health insurance?
The answer to this is an unequivocal yes. You could spend ten years living in Asia in good health and never needing to consult a medical professional but you could equally well have a car accident tomorrow requiring heart surgery, plastic surgery, extensive physiotherapy and a three month hospital stay which could take costs into seven figure territory. The fact is that you just don’t know and do you really want to take the risk?
2. Can I rely on a travel policy from home?
For some expatriates, long-term travel insurance taken out back home can cover you for up to five years abroad but this will need to have been put in place before you leave and does assume that home is still officially your country of residence. I have seen this option advised for younger expats and it could work as a stop-gap but it is not a long term solution and if you are planning on staying for any length of time, I would advise putting something more permanent in place which is specifically designed for expats who are resident in Asia.
3. Is local insurance suitable for me?
Local insurance policies are generally less expensive and can be a good option. One advantage is that hospitals are used to them and usually operate on a card system to facilitate direct billing which means that you are not out of pocket at any time. This means less paperwork for you. The downsides: coverage can be limited in terms of amount, you may not have access to the best hospitals and age restrictions and exclusions may apply.
4. Is an international policy better than a local one?
This is a very personal decision. There are undeniably advantages to having an international policy including higher coverage limits, access to the very best international hospitals and ease of renewal regardless of how old you are. At the end of the day, you will need to consider whether these advantages are worth the extra cost to you.
5. What are the most common exclusions?
Some are standard regardless of your insurer – for example, it is rare to find a policy which will cover you for any self-inflicted injuries, alcoholism, depression or if you choose to engage in acts of terrorism or war. Other exclusions will vary from policy to policy and it will be a case of going through the policy with a fine toothcomb to ensure you understand exactly what is and isn’t covered. Some common exclusions you should check are as follows:
• Pre-existing conditions
• Competitive sports
• Extreme sports
• Sexually transmitted diseases including HIV
• Accidents occurring under the influence of alcohol
• Natural and man-made disasters including if you are a victim of an act of terrorism
6. Will my policy cover me abroad?
Expats travel a lot, often visiting family and friends back home at least once a year. Travel may or may not be covered and conditions such as the length of time you can be abroad will vary. This is definitely something to check. It may be possible to purchase add-on travel insurance to cover against all eventualities.
7. If I am seriously ill, will I be able to return home?
Repatriation is often a desirable option for expats living in Asia. If this is important to you make sure you select a policy which offers repatriation as standard.
8. Is my insurance company obliged to renew my policy?
This will depend on the policy. There are cases where insurers have the right to cancel a policy or refuse to extend it after a major claim so check this and opt for one which offers automatic renewal.
9. What are the other important considerations I should look at?
All policies will have maximum payouts as well as individual limits for different procedures. The former tend to be generous and I haven’t heard of anyone needing to claim in excess of the total amount they are covered for. There is also the question of excess/deductibles i.e. how much comes out of your pocket for each individual claim which can vary depending on your premiums.
10. What do I need to know about payment?
Some insurance companies will charge extra for monthly payments, others won’t – it is up to you to check the terms of each contract and to shop around to find a payment plan that suits you.
The higher the excess level you are willing to cover, the lower your premiums will be so you could take out a policy whereby you pay for any treatment under, say, $1,000 and use the insurance to cover just major treatment – it is a case of balancing your requirements with your budget.
Unfortunately the cost of medical care is rising fast and that means premiums rise with it on an annual basis. It is worth trying to find out about increases imposed by an insurer over previous years as a guide to what might happen to yours in the future.
11. I’m 60 – can I still get health cover?
Obviously the older you are, the greater the risk for the insurer and it can be more difficult to obtain full medical insurance cover. This is one reason why I advise clients to sign up to a policy while they are still young and ensure that coverage can’t be terminated at a specified age.
12. What questions will they ask when I apply for insurance?
Questionnaires vary but you will be asked to detail your past health history including all illnesses and interventions as well as how much you drink and smoke. Do not be tempted to lie as this can render your cover invalid – horror stories regarding rejected claims (usually to do with pre-existing conditions) are not hard to find in the press. Insurance companies have the right to reject you so in order not to have to disclose this to other insurers (they can ask) apply to several at the same time.
13. What if I need to make a claim?
It is best to carry your insurance card/details with you at all times in case of emergency and to avoid any delays in treatment. Most major insurers have direct billing arrangements with hospitals however if this is not the case you will need to pay up front and send receipts for reimbursement so carrying a credit card is also prudent. Whenever you have any medical treatment, be sure to keep and file all receipts. For some non-emergency procedures you may need to contact your insurer prior to treatment and get authorisation.
14. Can I get help with deciding what insurance to get?
As you will have noticed, there are a lot of different considerations to take into account when choosing medical insurance. If you’d like some assistance with wading through the detail, I can help.
Here at Infinity we are completely independent and work with all the major insurance companies operating in Asia. I can help you search the market for the deal which best suits the unique requirements of you and your family. Why not contact me for an appointment at firstname.lastname@example.org?