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Expat Focus International Healthcare Update June 2020

Money International reports this month that it has compiled some statistics on the likelihood of male expats to return home, if possible, in the event of a health crisis such as Covid. The pandemic has caused a number of expats to rethink their choice of location, given not only the sudden difficulties of travel, but also the economic impact of the pandemic on local monetary and employment systems. With health insurance being squeezed out of a number of employment packages, and possible unrest in traditional retirement locales, expats are reaching the conclusion that it might be better to seek medical care at home.According to MI, specific concerns included:

• quality of treatment (26%)
• costs of treatment (26%), including upfront fees (15%)
• standard of medical facilities (18%)
• discussing medical issues in a foreign language (12%)
• isolation from family and friends while ill (15%)

Although the Money International study only focused on men, many of these concerns will be relevant to expats of all genders.

Since the beginning of 2020, approximately 323,000 workers have already departed Saudi Arabia, due partly to changes in health insurance coverage for expats.

A large number of expats, or those considering a relocation abroad for their retirement, are now rethinking their plans. This is mainly due to healthcare: Covid hits the oldest the hardest, and access to hospitals with ventilators and properly funded infrastructure suddenly becomes an issue.

This may run counter to a recent survey of expats by the deVere Group, who found earlier in the year that 6 out of 10 Britons had determined not to move back to the UK. They say that the ‘pull’ factors of overseas life outweigh those of the UK, but the UK’s ‘push’ factors (fears surrounding Brexit, political issues, the cost of living, and more) were sufficient to keep British expats from coming back home. Covid 19 and its impact may well have changed the situation.

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The situation in some nations currently emerging from lockdown is more hopeful and positive, however. Malaysia is re-opening its borders, for example, but only to certain groups: these include medical tourists. You can enter the country for this purpose by going via the Health Ministry, registering with the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council and undergoing a Covid-19 test; you will be taken to the hospital immediately and will not require home quarantine.

With the recent pandemic in mind, it might be advisable to check your current international health insurance and see what they have to say about coverage under the ‘new normal.’ Some providers are going further and taking active steps to help with the situation: New York Life and Cigna, for example, have created the Brave of Heart Fund, which is dedicated to assisting healthcare workers and their families. The Fund is designed to provide financial support in the form of charitable relief grants to support the families of healthcare workers who lose their lives to COVID-19. Cigna’s behavioral health will also provide support and services, via its Mindfulness for Healthcare Workers program.

Most health insurance providers will cover cover the costs of treatment for Covid-19 in the same way as for other viral infections. However, policies will vary between providers: make sure that you are aware of the contents of your policy. For instance, if you need out-patient care, you’ll need to have out-patient cover included in your policy. You will not be able to get a policy which covers the illness if you currently have Covid, and if you have had the disease, then you will need to discuss this with your insurance provider, as some policies may not cover you depending on how seriously you had the virus (for example, if you have been hospitalised with ongoing health issues caused by the virus).

The UK FCO is advising British travellers abroad to contact their health or travel insurance providers if they are getting low on medication. They suggest that you should not wait until your supplies of medication or equipment are low. In many countries medicines and equipment are not easily available and the pandemic may have affected supply chains.

The FCO says that this is particularly important if you were advised to take malaria prevention tablets (chemoprophylaxis). If you do run low, are unable to get further supplies and cannot return home, they advise that you remain especially vigilant with bite precautions. If you develop a fever or other illness, try to get to reputable medical care straight away.

Remember to keep checking government advice regarding isolation and quarantine regulations if you are travelling. As much of the world emerges from lockdown, regulations surrounding travel in different nations keep changing, sometimes on a daily basis, as governments change policies depending on new information.

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