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In the current health insurance landscape where insurers are rushing to offer competitive premiums and flexibility in coverage, there is no longer a fixed template for insurance plans. We can no longer assume the fine prints, inclusions and exclusions are the “standard”. You will not want to be caught at a loss or in a dispute with your insurer when you are ill in an unfamiliar country. Here are some of the things you should be looking out when comparing international health insurance policies.
This may not come in need till you have to make a claim but trust us, you will want to know if you need to pay upfront first if you have a huge bill. Check if you will be reimbursed afterwards and what is the claim processing time. Some insurers provide online digital claim processing, some might have an office nearby where you can drop the claim.
Also check if the insurance company provides a network of direct settlement that is large in your country of residence. Direct billing will have the insurer make the payment directly to the healthcare provider without you having to pay anything.
The worst case scenario, however, is to realise that you are not eligible for a claim. Always take note how the terms are defined, even for your policy riders. For example, some insurers do not regard Stage 0 of cancer or carcinoma in situ as “critical illness”. If you can do menial tasks, you may not be “unable to work”. Some entitlements, especially cash payouts, only kick in after a minimum length of time and cease when they reach a cap. These include situations such as hospitalisation and inability to work.
Ask your insurance agent for a list of optional enhancements and make sure you have got everything you need. Know what are not included, and pay the extra if you have to.
If you have existing conditions before the signing of plan, it may not be covered under your plan. However, often if you are willing to pay extra, you are able to obtain a full or partial coverage. Some insurers will offer coverage based upon a certain number of claim-free years or when there is no detection of a reoccurrence after a waiting period. It is usually two to four years. To deter people from abusing the plan and buying policies only when they have medical expenses to be claimed, some insurers that defer the benefits. They will only pay after the insured suffers from the condition for a certain period.
The insurer can decide to cover the acute phases only. Meaning they do not pay for the routine treatments but will support you when you are in dire need of a significant and expensive treatment. You can decide on a lifetime limit with your insurer. This means that they will reimburse you for your medical expenses linked to your condition but will never pay more than the agreed lifetime limit for that condition. An annual limit can be decided, which means that each year your medical expenses will be cut-off after a certain limit but you are fully covered within that limit.
Below is a list of the common exclusions. It varies with different insurers. Some companies cover treatment but not preventive care such as screenings or vaccines, and vice versa. Some plans compensate up to a certain amount and period or offer the coverage as an optional upgrade.
Addictive and mental conditions and disorders
Artificial life maintenance
AIDS or HIV-related disease
Birth control – contraception, sterilisation, abortion (unless medically recommended)
Fertility treatment or fertility test
Conflict and disaster
Experimental or unproven care such as Traditional Chinese Medicine
Self-inflicted and illegal acts
Cosmetic and plastic surgery
As a rule of thumb, always declare your medical conditions thoroughly from the start, clarify your doubts with your agent in writing, and do your homework when comparing the plans. We have handpicked a list of reputable insurers here, which are known to provide the best possible international coverage for expats. They will have professional insurance advisers for you to consult – do not forget to raise the points that we have covered to make a fully informed decision.