Tips for Structuring Your Policy
Regardless of whether you choose travel or expat insurance, here are some tips:
Evacuation and Repatriation
Tompkins highly recommends “obtaining a plan that includes evacuation and repatriation care, especially if you are residing or traveling in a developing country with limited medical facilities.”
Most insurance policies exclude any coverage that is related to pre-existing conditions. If there are complications or related illnesses/injuries on the road, this could result in a pricey bill for you. Tompkins says a solution to this is to “try to obtain a policy that can underwrite you medically and potentially cover your medical condition for an extra fee.”
Pregnant, or Planning to Be?
Travel insurance plans won’t cover pregnancy-related medical visits or illnesses, but “an international health plan [expat insurance] may cover pregnancy coverage after you have owned the policy for 12 months.” (In other words, with a 12-month waiting period, you would need to have the policy in place for a year before you become pregnant).
Choose a Reputable Company
“Make sure you get a policy with a large and secure insurance company that will stand behind their coverage and be able to process your future claims,” suggests Tompkins. Look for a company with long history and a secure financial rating, read the policy and terms to ensure they cover things like direct reimbursement to hospitals, and search for online reviews to see how the customer experience is.
Use a Broker
I can attest to the virtues of using a broker; they tend to work with reputable insurers, and can source a policy that best meets your needs. They will also help you with the application, renewal, and sometimes even the claims process.
And don’t worry, you don’t pay a fee to use a broker; they are compensated by the insurance companies.
If you know expat insurance is the one for you, keep in mind the following:
Vision, Dental, and Extras
“Some expat health plans will also provide the option of obtaining dental and vision care,” says Tompkins. Some of these beefed-up plans also include some coverage for services like massage and physiotherapy.
But remember, the more plush the plan is, the higher your premiums will be. Need for, availability, and cost of these services depends on where you are traveling/living.
Many expat health insurance plans give you an option to include or exclude coverage if you are traveling/living in the USA. “Medical costs are quite high in the United States and many plans will provide you the option of excluding medical care in the USA, which helps reduce the premiums,” suggests Tompkins.
What Happens to Your Premiums Over Time
Contrary to auto insurance (which rewards no claims with discounted premiums), expat insurance premiums will go up over time. Tompkins says “the average health inflation rate is 10-15% depending on the insurer. Most individual health plans [premiums] are not impacted by your own health claims, but are affected by the claims experience that the insurer is facing in any given year”.
PRO-TIP: After swallowing these rate increases with IMG each year for about five years, I had a peek at current rates as if I was buying the very same policy for the first time. Even with my increase in age, the market rates were significantly lower than what I was paying. So, I applied for a brand new policy at the lower rate, and once I qualified, I cancelled my existing policy.
This is common practice in the insurance industry, and is referred to as a “policy replacement”. The downside to replacing your policy is that you will have to go through the standard “waiting period” (for things like pregnancy coverage and pre-existing conditions) all over again. The upside (in addition to lower rates) is that you may potentially be reconsidered for any exclusions imposed on your existing policy.