International health insurance policies are usually designed such that the insurance company is located in one country, the insured person is a citizen of another country, and the insured person is living outside his or her country of citizenship. There are many variations on the theme, with citizens returning home temporarily and so on, but that’s the basic idea.
This is NOT THE SAME as travel insurance – we’ll do a post on that in the future. Travel insurance is basically for shorter periods and not as comprehensive with the medical benefits although there are some good deals out there, especially with credit card packages.
Here’s a quick breakdown of how the international policies usually work as opposed to national ones:
- for smaller procedures, they reimburse the insured person after he pays the doctor himself, i.e., you have to pay directly to the doctor then wait to get reimbursed
- for bigger procedures in the hospital, they settle the bill directly so you don’t have to worry about it
- always have English speaking customer service, plus more languages usually
THEY COVER YOU IN MORE THAN ONE COUNTRY. This is a big one if you are traveling around and might want treatment somewhere else. This isn’t a priority for a lot of national plans and the nationals they serve, beyond simple treatments for over-exhaustion on their next shopping trip to Miami.
2 “Big Picture” Trends (Based on Reading Many, Many Contracts)
Trend #1: Globalization: Like in any industry, private insurance companies seek out the best jurisdiction to incorporate and operate from. That means these policies are driven more by the free market – ie, what their customers are paying attention to – rather than by national rulemakers managing the terms and conditions.
Are the private insurance companies regulated? You bet. But usually in “lighter touch” places like Hong Kong, Luxembourg, the Isle of Man, etc. You can expect the regulators to make the companies stick to the contract, but not come to your rescue if didn’t read it closely.
Trend #2: Non-corporate expats: Most of these types of insurers started out focusing on corporate expatriates, that is to say, focusing on the HR managers who were deciding what to give their staff as part of an expat package when being posted overseas. 15 years ago relocating to a new country, and global travel in general, was just not as accessible to normal folks as it is today.
However today all the companies are very happy to talk with everyone, of course.
What the Trends Mean to You: Caveat Emptor!
Let’s face it – reading contracts is boring. But you have to check the wording of these policies as it applies to your particular situation. It’s your and your family’s health.
Checklist for Thinking About International Coverage
Some things to ask yourself when thinking about international coverage are:
- do I just need travel insurance
- if something really serious happens, where do I want to get treatment
- do I have any “semi-planned” procedures coming up such as getting my knee scoped or childbirth
- how many times do I go to the doctor per year, historically speaking
- how good / expensive are the local alternatives
What to Do Next?
Drop us a line – we’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.