That unexpected medical bill – it could be you

With industry data showing the percentage of expatriates who hold international private medical insurance still standing at around the 50% mark, for many, the prospect of an unexpected bill is a real risk. Although international private medical insurance provides real peace of mind for those concerned about long term or chronic illnesses which may strike, this kind of insurance is equally relevant for helping expatriates who may have been injured in a car accident or who might be struck down with an unexpected condition such as an appendicitis, even though they may be relatively young and healthy. More often than not, the cost of a course of medical treatment is unknown, simply because unless you know someone who has been in a private hospital, it is just not on our everyday radars.

Medical insurance premiums reflect medical costs and these are made up of many elements, not just the cost of the drugs, treatments and the wage of the specialist local surgeon or doctor. It is also a fact that medical inflation tends to run at higher levels that normal consumer inflation, and inevitably, the cost of carrying out a procedure will eventually be reflected in the premium rates.

Health insurance providers such as April International UK will be very focused on the need to control premium increases, as like any market, this is a competitive arena. Debbie Purser, CEO, comments, “Our track record in this regard is good – our premium increases are consistently below the level of medical inflation and that is achieved in part by working very closely with our assistance provider, who are our “eyes and ears” on the ground.  This is important, as similar medical procedure costs can and do vary widely in cost – take an appendectomy, for example. Whilst each case will be different at the patient level, the surgical costs can vary from £8,000 in the UAE to £25,000 in the USA. In the UK such a procedure might cost £12,000, whilst in India it would cost £5,000 and in Spain, £10,000. Assistance providers oversee all the logistics - some will also have a responsibility to check the cost of procedures, to check that claimed treatments were carried out and to generally run an on-going audit. This constant presence sends a strong message to doctors and clinics. It shows the insurers are watching on the ground costs and it helps insurers to keep prices in check which in turn means lower premiums for clients. Against this background, an annual insurance premium represents excellent value.

Add in likely other complaints such as backache, which can cost thousands to treat, where x- rays and physiotherapy are required and it is hard to see why so many risk not taking out insurance. Debbie Purser ends, “It’s easy to see how in the rush to get abroad and to get settled into the new job, healthcare insurance can seem like a low priority. Starting work, finding a house and if children are moving, finding a school will all seem more urgent, yet one visit to the hospital can wipe out a year’s savings, wrecking plans. It is never too late to apply – cover can be bought online in minutes to protect for years.”