International private medical insurance: examining the key service and features

In my latest post aimed at advisers looking to expand their product set to support the healthcare needs of their internationally-based clients, I take a brief look at the service and benefits features of international private medical insurance (IPMI), and what advantages they offer to clients.

Living or working abroad often means coming into contact with different kinds of health risks. Every country has its own health issues, endemic diseases and unique problems. Medical facilities overseas can be very different from what people are used to in their home country. Other issues such as language barriers and the low availability of certain types of medical treatment and medicines can further complicate matters.

International private medical insurance (IPMI) is designed for people living or working outside of their home country. Plans can be purchased by individuals and their families or on behalf of company employees. IPMI provides flexible and transportable medical protection, enabling the insured to access first class medical treatment anywhere in the world. Wealthy local nationals keen to access to medical centres of excellence outside of their country of residence are also frequent purchasers of IPMI cover.

Benefit-rich programs

Insurers offer a range of insurance options to suit different lifestyles and destinations. Typically on a 12 month contract, the insurance covers elective care for minor conditions through to acute medical treatment for major illness or injury. A range of additional benefits typically sit within the core cover including:

  • family doctor consultations,
  • health assessments,
  • routine and emergency dental treatment,
  • maternity cover,
  • optical cover,
  • home nursing,
  • evacuation and repatriation.

Key service features/terms

24-hour multi-lingual customer service – insurance providers usually operate a 24 hours/365 days-a-year multi-lingual telephone service for insureds looking for advice on cover, treatment authorisation, help with accessing care and other issues.

Medical networks – a global network of approved hospitals and clinics. The medical facilities will either be contracted to insurers directly or via third party organisations whose business it is to create and managed such arrangements. Networks provide cost and oversight advantages to insurers but also service level guarantees for members accessing cover.

Direct settlement – when a member is treated in a medical facility that falls within their insurer’s medical network, the insurer will normally settled the bill directly with the facility. Where treatment is sought outside of an insurer’s network, the member may have to pay out of their own pocket and make a claim for the expense.

Digital health tools – many insurers now provide their members with digital apps to support them in making healthy life choices. Apps will include a range of features, such as enabling key health metrics to be tracked and competing with colleagues to help with motivation.

Online plan management – with the nomadic nature of many expatriates, online portals created by insurers are even more relevant than they might be with domestic plans. Through the portals, members get easy access to wellness information, emergency phone numbers, plan documentation, benefit levels/limits summaries and information on what is/isn’t covered under their plans.

Key cover features/terms

Evacuation & Repatriation cover – insurers provide evacuation and repatriation cover as standard within their IPMI plans. These benefits might be used if the specialist treatment required is not available locally and transportation to the nearest centre of medical excellence is required.

In-patient cover – cover provided when a patient is admitted to a hospital or clinic that involves at least one night of stay relating to their care.

Out-patient/day-treatment cover – cover provided when a patient who is not hospitalised visits a hospital or clinic for treatment but does not stay overnight.

Maternity cover – cover for routine pregnancy / childbirth and complications. A moratorium will usually be in place 10 months from the start of the plan before benefits will be made available.

Dental cover – cover for routine, complex and emergency dental cover. This type of cover is usually subject to annual claim limits and dependent on regular dental check-ups.

Whilst the focus for many advisers might well be protection and investment products, health insurance should be viewed as an asset protector too. After all, procedures like hip replacements can cost tens of thousands of dollars and long term acute conditions can run into the hundreds of thousands. Sums like these can lead to serious financial issues for many clients if insurance were not to be in place.