Why Understanding Expat Healthcare Issues Before You Move Abroad Is So Important
When relocating to a different country, it is important to ensure that every aspect of life is secure. This especially applies to health insurance. Making sure that you and your family have access to healthcare abroad is one of the first steps you should take, since it is hard to predict when a medical emergency can occur. If you wait until a health issue arises, the process of arranging expat healthcare could delay timely medical care or could end up being quite costly. Ensuring sufficient health insurance is particularly essential for those with pre-existing health problems that need ongoing monitoring.Getting adequate healthcare in a different country requires several steps such as choosing and registering with a doctor, identifying the nearest healthcare facility, finding out the emergency numbers and ambulance services. It also involves identifying what expat medical insurance you require in order to access healthcare services. Here are some tips for choosing the right kind of medical insurance that gives you access to proper healthcare when living overseas.
Consider country-specific factors
Access to healthcare may be different from what you are accustomed to back home; therefore it is important to research the implications of expat healthcare in your host country. Check to see if you are eligible for public healthcare, or if there are any limitations based on nationality or the duration of time you plan to reside in your host country. For instance, in some countries, it is mandatory to purchase a local health insurance plan, which means that you have to contribute a monthly fee towards a state-regulated healthcare plan, regardless of if you have some other type of expat health insurance.
Some countries receive contributions through the public social security system, and these payments are automatically deducted from the salary. European Union nationals are covered by the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) in certain cases and for a certain duration of time in other member states. Some countries may also have reciprocal healthcare agreements with your host country. Find out from your local government, which healthcare agreements are in place and what they imply, in terms of coverage. Bilateral health agreements usually cover medical emergencies only, and therefore you may still need to buy health insurance to have access to healthcare services in your host country.
The quality of government-provided healthcare is different from one country to the next, with significant differences in waiting times, costs and accessibility. Some countries have particular regulations about who can use public health services. Expats may require temporary or permanent residency before they are accepted into the healthcare system. In these cases, it becomes necessary to obtain private health insurance. An understanding of the local rules will enable you to make an informed decision whether local health coverage is adequate or if you are required to take out private or expat health insurance.
Plug the gaps in your health insurance coverage
Even if you have been granted access to low-cost healthcare in your host country, you must keep in mind that not all public healthcare systems offer full coverage.
In some cases, there may be restrictions on accessibility to certain services until a specific period has passed. For instance, expats may not be able to avail themselves of free x-rays or maternity services until they have contributed into a social security system or healthcare plan for several months. In addition, you will not be able to get local health coverage in a particular country until you are living in that country, which means that you could be without any health insurance until you set up your social security, register with the local healthcare agency or buy a local health insurance plan.
All of these usually require a residential address. It can take months to organize these processes and hence only a private health insurance plan can prevent gaps in your health coverage, since you can arrange for expat coverage before your move. You may need to pay towards your healthcare costs in some countries; hence it’s a good idea to check what reimbursements are available.
Some local healthcare plans only provide coverage for a portion of medical costs and may even exclude certain medical expenses such as overnight hospital stays and dental care, the costs of which may have to be borne by you. Private or expat health insurance plans can help to close these gaps.
Does your employer provide health coverage?
In many cases expats move abroad on foreign assignments and are covered under the company’s health insurance plan. If this applies to you, then it’s a good idea to find out what this health insurance plan covers and if it will meet your requirements. In other cases, expats may not be covered by a company plan, but can negotiate an insurance clause into their employment contract. In such cases, it is essential to understand the insurance cover provided by your employer. Find out if your family is included in the policy. Also, do you have any pre-existing conditions that are not covered by the policy? What about when you visit home, does the policy cover you then too? The policy may be cheaper, but it is still important to ensure that it is adequate.
Do you need local, private or expat insurance?
Certain local private health insurance plans provide coverage while you are overseas, but this is usually for a limited period and only for necessary treatments. If you already have private insurance in your home country, find out from your provider if the plan will cover you while abroad and for how long. Purchasing a private national plan in your host country will help to eliminate the long waiting times. You will also have access to better healthcare services and it may enable you to choose a local medical provider who speaks your language. However, it may not give you sufficient coverage if you return home for long durations of time or if you travel often.
Individuals who travel often may require expat health insurance, which can cover them fully in the different countries they visit. A special expat health insurance policy works better than a local one in such cases. It is important to understand your insurance policy documentation and also to be able to speak to a customer service representative. For this reason most expats feel more comfortable with an insurance company that provides support in English.
Choose a plan that meets your requirements
There is a wide range of medical insurance coverage available from international health insurance companies. It helps to figure out the services you realistically need. Supplements are available in the form of maternity care, dental care or mental healthcare. Insurance companies also offer medical evacuation and expatriation costs. Individual private medical insurance (IPMI) plans are useful to expats as they have specific benefits that are customized to suit their requirements. It is important to ask your health insurance company the proper questions before buying a policy in order to ensure that it provides the right kind of coverage for you and your family.
Some questions to ask your insurer include:
• Does the policy fit the specific requirements of you and your family?
• What are the age restrictions, if any?
• Is the coverage cut after a certain age?
• What is the policy towards pre-existing conditions?
• What international coverage does the plan provide?
• What are the exclusions for making a claim?
• Is the insurance company licensed?
• How does one access health services abroad and how can you make a claim?
This is important for expats who travel often, as they should have easy access to it no matter where they are. Take the time to do adequate research before buying insurance. Also compare policies and the costs. There are a number of website that provide comparisons of health insurance plans.
Preventive and Diagnostic Medical Care
People move abroad for various reasons such as work, a change of lifestyle or retirement. Relocating may place you in destinations where there is limited medical care. There may also be increased exposure to health and safety risks. Getting the right kind of health insurance helps to prevent possible health problems from occurring when you are overseas. Preventive healthcare involves medical measures to prevent disease. It helps to detect health problems before they turn serious. It also helps to prevent chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Preventive medical care involves screenings, immunisations, laboratory and other medical tests to help prevent illnesses before they start to manifest symptoms. Diagnostic medical care, on the other hand, is done to follow up and monitor existing medical problems. Both preventive and diagnostic medical care help to ensure good health.
Preventive healthcare is particularly important for senior expats so that they can stay healthy and prevent disabilities. This age group will benefit from screenings and tests done regularly. These include blood pressure check, mammogram, cholesterol test, cancer screening, diabetes screening and age-specific immunisations.
Preventive healthcare is also useful for pregnant expats. Preventive healthcare tests and prenatal care is imperative during this crucial time. There are certain tests that when done during pregnancy, help to lower the risk for any potential diseases. Pregnant expats should visit their healthcare provider regularly and ask about any vaccines they may need. It is also important to check your health plan to see if it has maternity coverage. Individual plans usually have a 12-month waiting period, while there is no waiting period for group plans. Ensure that you visit your doctor often during pregnancy. Discuss with your doctor if you will be residing overseas in a destination where healthcare is limited or there is greater exposure to health risks such as infections or viruses, like the Zika Virus.
Children too require regular medical check-ups and screenings. You can even talk to your healthcare professional about any concerns regarding adopting a healthy diet. Becoming an expat can be an interesting experience for your children, but it can also lead to a significant amount of stress. Therefore you may also decide to see a mental health professional in order to help your children adapt to the new country and culture.
Men are less likely than women to see a doctor. But regular preventive healthcare can go a long way in helping both men and women live long and healthy lives. An example of preventive healthcare for men includes prostate exams. Apart from general adult preventive healthcare, women can also benefit from tests such as mammograms, cervical cancer screening, chlamydia screening, etc.
Preventive healthcare can be quite expensive at private facilities, especially in the more developed countries. There are local healthcare packages designed especially for expats; but these may include only basic medical coverage, and do not cover preventive healthcare costs. They also do not enable access to advanced private care. This is why it is essential to obtain customized international health insurance which provides coverage for expats internationally and include preventive healthcare expenses, hospitalization, treatments, medicines and medical emergency evacuation and repatriation.
Selecting a Health Insurance Provider
When looking for an expat health insurance provider there are some things that must be considered. The best approach to selecting a health insurance provider is not cost, but reputation. It is advisable to do some research into the reputation of an insurer so that any potential problems can be identified and addressed. It is also important to look into a potential insurer’s financial stability.
Another consideration when applying for health insurance is your lifestyle. Expats who will be participating in sporting activities or any activities that are potentially risky, need to make sure that their healthcare insurance policy covers them for any accident that may occur during such activities. Most international healthcare insurers adopt a direct billing process by which hospital or medical fees are settled directly between the healthcare facility and the insurer. Therefore the insured does not need to pay and then claim the amount at later date. Expats who do not have considerable savings will require such an insurer, as hospital bills can be quite costly.
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