International healthcare

International healthcare

Sales growth of a couple of percentage points is newsworthy for most protection products. So with compound annual growth of more than 10 per cent between 2011 and 2015, and expectations that this rate will increase over the next few years, the international medical insurance market certainly grabs the headlines.

The statistics, which were compiled by market research company Finaccord, found that the global market for international medical insurance for expats and students was worth about US$12.98bn in 2015, of which more a fifth (US$2.78bn) came from new business.

On top of this, it found that although there were about 105.1m expatriates and students worldwide who were eligible for international medical insurance, fewer than 10 per cent had taken out cover. As a result, it predicts the market will continue to grow at a rate of 11.7 per cent a year to be worth more than US$20bn by 2019.

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Taking cover

While international PMI may be outside many IFAs’ normal territories and comfort zones, it is a product that may suit a significant proportion of their client bases.

Damian Lenihan, sales director at Aetna, says many wealthier individuals are now globally mobile, spending extended periods away from the UK, either on work or in retirement.

“More people now work overseas or, especially in retirement, have a holiday home abroad where they spend several months of the year. If they have a domestic medical insurance policy, they will expect similar levels of healthcare overseas,” he explains.

“Many IFAs will have clients that fit these criteria, and a lot of them will not be aware they could take out an international medical insurance policy.”

As well as meeting expectations, where someone is overseas for more than a couple of weeks it can be foolhardy to rely on other options for healthcare. Travel insurance will provide a couple of million pounds or more of medical cover, but this is for emergencies only and is likely to exclude any pre-existing medical conditions.

Similarly, although the European Health Insurance Card is designed to give EU citizens the right to access state-provided healthcare when they are temporarily in any other member state, there is no guarantee that this will be on a par with the UK’s NHS provision and there may also be a charge for some medical treatments.

Depending on the length and nature of an individual’s stay, some countries will also insist on foreign visitors having medical insurance as part of the entry requirements. This is particularly the case in the Gulf States. For example, in Dubai, although it is not necessary for a tourist to have medical insurance, it is a requirement for anyone seeking a working visa and the authorities will also stipulate a minimum level of cover.

International benefits

Although the objective of an international medical insurance policy is the same as a UK plan – enabling the policyholder to access private healthcare when required – there are some key differences between the two types of cover.

Importantly, the breadth of cover on an international policy is much wider. “There is no NHS outside the UK, so international plans have to include benefits for items that we normally receive for free in this country and would never be included on a UK policy,” explains Chris Beardshall, senior consultant at Willis PMI Group. “These include cover for chronic conditions, maternity benefits and access to primary care.”