Health insurance and the cost of living healthily – April International UK highlights the implications of having no medical cover abroad

The steady tightening of the rules which determine whether a person qualifies for free treatment in an NHS hospital has once again thrown the spotlight on the true cost of falling ill whilst abroad. Historically, research has shown that around 50% of those who leave the UK to live and work abroad do not take out international private medical insurance, thinking instead that they will automatically qualify for free NHS treatment, should an emergency arise. What many do not appreciate, though, is even if they are able to get on a plane after an accident or having fallen ill, returning to the UK is no guarantee of free NHS access. If you have not been living in the UK for more than 12 months, you will be interviewed by the hospital to calculate whether you have to pay for treatment. You may be asked to give proof of your residence in the UK.

Medical opinion may also be needed, for example, to prove that your illnesses began or got worse during your visit to the UK. Increasingly, people, including UK nationals, are being told they will have to pay, if they do not qualify for free treatment. Underlining the increasing cost of medical treatment at home and abroad for even the most apparently mundane complaints, Debbie Purser, CEO at April International UK highlights two recent examples of on-going claims that have been settled on behalf of policyholders. In the first, a 53 year old British male living and working aboard a luxury yacht went to a doctor in the USA complaining of chest pains. Extensive testing revealed a blocked artery which required an emergency stent to be fitted. The client continues to make a steady recovery, but obviously requires costly regular monitoring, with the result that medical bills of nearly £20,000 have been paid out over the last six months. The client is expected to make a good recovery.

In a second case, a 34 year old British male suffered a broken wrist following a fall whilst in Turkey. Although a full recovery is forecast, to date the costs of medical treatment and rehabilitation are nearly £13,000. Such cases are a constant reminder of the everyday value and importance of having international private medical insurance, but it is the cost of treating cancers which can produce medical bills running into the tens of thousands of pounds, especially where a patient is moved between countries to access treatment. Two clients of April International UK with cancer who are currently being treated have so far run up bills over £65,000 and £262,000 respectively. In one case, having taken out worldwide cover, the client elected to be flown from Europe and treated in the USA in order to be able to access the highest standards of care. In the other, chemotherapy was started in Hong Kong, with the client being flown to London to complete the treatment. Debbie Purser adds, “Cancers are now far more treatable than was the case 20 years ago. However the cost of that treatment can be very high. At April International UK, we will meet the cost of cancer diagnosis and treatment, both today and into the future, giving clients immense peace of mind.” Cases like these highlight that, with the benefit of hindsight, taking out an international private health insurance plan can work out to be one of the smartest investments anyone leaving the UK can make.