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Overseas aid

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Insurers are offering innovative ways to help protect expat staff in a volatile world says Sam Barrett


When it comes to staying safe abroad, international medical insurers can help prepare employees before they head off. “Many of the insurers including Allianz Worldwide Care, Axa PPP healthcare, Bupa International and Cigna International provide travel guides that can help an employee understand what to expect,” says Chris Beardshall, global account executive for the PMI Health Group, adding that his company also produces country guides for its corporate clients.

As an example, Cigna International offers its clients access to Cigna Envoy. This is a secure website that contains medical, safety and cultural information for more than 200 countries. Likewise, Allianz Worldwide Care provides members with a variety of travel resources including safe travel advice; details of embassies around the world; and information about healthcare systems in different countries.

“We’d also recommend anyone going abroad checks the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office website as this contains the latest information about how safe it is to travel to the area,” adds Beardshall. This contains information on every country, covering everything from the visa and vaccinations requirements to the latest advice on safety and security.

But while the international medical insurers are happy to provide information and advice to prepare their members before they jet off, they can be much less helpful if a member then finds themselves caught up in a dangerous situation. “If it’s a medical emergency and someone needs to access healthcare, the insurer will intervene to ensure they receive the necessary treatment,” says Patrick Woodhead, specialist consultant at Lorica Employee Benefits.

“But most of them aren’t in a position to help if the member isn’t in need of healthcare. Because of this, we’d expect the employer to be thinking about getting their employees out at the first signs of a problem in the region.”

Insurers are also keen to point out that cover isn’t available if a member is injured as a result of their involvement in any political uprising or unrest, although most corporate employees are likely to be affected by such a clause. “We only cover innocent bystanders,” says Alison Massey, marketing and ecommerce director at Now Health International. “No insurer would cover you if you were involved in the political unrest or terrorism.”

We only cover innocent bystanders. No insurer would cover you if you were involved in political unrest or terrorism”

But, for innocent bystanders caught up in an incident, as well as any treatment required as a result of an emergency situation, international medical insurance would also step in to assist anyone with a chronic condition who could no longer access their treatment. For example, if an employee has diabetes and was unable to access their medication, their medical insurer would take steps to supply it or take them to a safer area where it was readily available. Similarly, if a scheme included maternity cover, and a pregnant employee or dependant was unable to access their medical support as a result of the situation it would be possible to be taken out of the region for treatment.

In these circumstances, or if treatment could only be accessed outside the country, it would be necessary to have evacuation and/or repatriation cover included on the policy. Evacuation would ensure the member was taken to the nearest available healthcare facility while repatriation would take them back to their home country for treatment.

“Repatriation can be an important benefit,” says Massey. “When something unsettling happens the desire to go home can be very strong.”

Although it is automatically included on some policies, evacuation and repatriation can be added as an option on most plans. Woodhead says it’s a relatively low cost add-on. For example on a corporate scheme, medical evacuation and repatriation will add around £150 per employee to the bill. “When you consider the cost of being repatriated could run into the tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of pounds, it’s a benefit worth having,” Woodhead says. “I’d definitely recommend it if a client was posting employees to an area where there were any doubts about the quality of the healthcare or there was a risk that an incident could happen that would affect the provision of healthcare,” he adds.

While employers can feel confident that employees with medical needs will be looked after by their international medical insurers, the same isn’t true for those without any health issues. It can be a grey area though. Although international medical insurers aren’t required to step in to assist members that aren’t in need of healthcare, some say they feel ethically obliged to help where possible. “If some of our members find themselves in a difficult situation, whether due to political unrest or a natural disaster, we would look to support them where we could,” explains Massey. “Priority would be given to those with medical conditions and, while we’d try to help other members affected, it’s not guaranteed we could get them out.”

To illustrate this she says that when the Japanese tsunami occurred, they checked to see whether any members were in Japan with a view to contacting them to see whether they needed any assistance.

A similar story comes from Teresa Rogers, international business lead at Aviva UK Health. She says that where employees are at risk, for instance as a result of a radiation leak, local arrangements and employers’ disaster recovery programmes would tend to kick in but the insurer would still offer support if possible.

“We’ll work with our overseas assistance service to ascertain the severity of the issue and associated risks to individuals in the area. We don’t pay for preventative actions such as evacuating employees as standard, but we will work with employers to offer appropriate support to injured employees and those with specific medical requirements,” she explains.

Additionally some insurers point to their local presence as giving them an edge when it comes to supporting members. For example, Paul Weigall, group head of sales and marketing at Interglobal, says that having offices in the key expatriate communities around the world helps to make its members feel more comfortable, whatever’s happening.

“Members can contact the local office to get information about the country and the security issues, whether there’s something unpleasant happening or not. It’s often about cultural issues and we have put together a lot of case studies to illustrate some of the differences. Having this local presence is very reassuring,” he explains.

Through an exclusive deal with global security specialists Red24, Interglobal offers all of its members a travel assistance helpline, travel safety text alerts and access to Red24’s website containing information on more than 185 countries.

On top of this it offers two levels of security assistance cover. The first, AdviceLine, is available on its UltraCare Standard and Select plans.

This provides tailored information on the areas being visited. Members with higher levels of cover through the UltraCare Comprehensive, Plus and Elite plans, also get ActionResponse. This provides support on the ground in situations that pose a threat to an individual’s security, including an emergency evacuation service in the event of a life-threatening situation. It also assists in the event of a kidnapping, arranging negotiators to help secure the person’s release.

Weigall explains how ActionResponse works: “If an employee was in Egypt when the riots started they would have been able to ring Red24 to get the latest advice. Red24 would also have made sure the employee was safe and arranged an evacuation if necessary. Having this cover gives members the peace of mind that they’ll be supported if something does happen.”

As an example, when the earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, some of Interglobal’s customers were on the island. As soon as the earthquake struck, Red24 used email and SMS messages to notify them of the situation and to keep them updated as developments occurred. Several members also wanted to be evacuated and Red24’s consultants helped to locate and arrange safe transport for these individuals.

“Although it was an earthquake and so technically an act of God and not covered, we were able to offer support as the rioting and looting that occurred afterwards posed a security threat to our members,” adds Weigall.

While Interglobal is the only international medical insurer to offer such a service, Weigall believes this will change. “I do think other insurers will have to follow us,” he says. “We have won several accounts as a result of it; there’s real demand for this additional security.”

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