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The international health service

Expats need to ensure they have PMI cover for their stay abroad.

The decision to start a new life in another country may well involve several gambles but when it comes to health nothing should be left to chance.

A change in climate, a different diet and the sheer stress of relocating, mean a trip to a doctor’s surgery in the first few months of a new life is all too common.In the UK, private medical insurance can be viewed as a luxury as taxpayers benefit from the NHS but for those moving abroad, PMI can often be a legal requirement for at least the first three months or until eligibility for state healthcare is established. Expatriates are increasingly turning to PMI.

Many PMI companies offer plans for expats which feature the same benefits anywhere in the world but divide the world into zones for pricing. A set package of benefits which is suitable for one country may not be suitable for another and treatment costs can vary substantially so it is important to consider which benefits are needed to ensure that a plan provides best value for money. For example, country-specific plans are more likely to reflect the healthcare systems and cost of treatment within that area, whilst portable cover policies still apply if treatment is needed in another country.

When it comes to looking at what features advisers should look for in a policy, it must be noted there is an enormous diversity in quality as well as cost of PMI policies.

First and foremost, look for a policy offering maximum flexibility. It is important there is freedom to decide which doctor carries out treatment and which clinics or hospitals can be used. This is particularly desirable if an English-speaking doctor is required or a specialist in a certain medical field. Some policies may restrict the choice of specialist and hospital to a list held by the doctor.

Portability is another key point to consider. Since British expatriates can no longer rely on getting free NHS treatment while visiting the UK, such “portable” policies have become increasingly popular. A number of policies exist which provide benefits for treatment within the European Economic Area, including the UK.

Affordability is another important consideration. Everybody’s circumstances are different so the ability to tailor a PMI policy to specific needs is very useful. The important points to be aware of are the levels of cover on offer and the ability to pay a voluntary excess for treatment. Tailoring policies in this way will enable the costs of PMI to be kept to a minimum while maintaining a suitable level of cover.

How premiums are calculated will also affect the cost of a policy. In addition to increases relating to claims’ history and to medical inflation, most PMI providers will increase premiums on a regular basis simply because of age. This often makes PMI policies an expensive luxury for older policyholders.

However, plans offering age-you-join benefits calculate premiums based on the age at which the policy is started so the younger the subscriber is to the policy then the lower the premiums are in later years if cover is unchanged and if membership is continued.

It is important to ensure the policy documentation is in a language which is understood. Insurance policies of any type are often full to bursting with small-print caveats which have to be understood before making a purchase. Make sure the insurance company can supply a copy in English for your records.

If taking regular medication, make a note of generic names of drugs and medicines, keep copies of all health records and policy documents from the medical insurer, such as level of cover, acceptance terms, claims’ procedure, etc. Make sure the Department for Work and Pensions, Overseas Branch, (Tyneview Park, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE98 1BA – 0191 218 7777) has been contacted. It will register the policyholder and dependants with the relevant European authorities for medical benefit purposes under EU regulation.

When buying medical insurance, ensure it is fully understood what is not covered by the policy chosen, check on the claim process and efficiency of the company considered and ensure the firm has sensible complaint procedures. Understand the terms and the cover provided before accepting the offer by the insurer and make sure the policy covers all health requirements, including cover for accidents and injuries.

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