BUSINESS people and regular travellers know the importance of being able to access healthcare wherever they are in Africa.
Peace of mind that healthcare is available when an emergency strikes is the reason why so many expatriates and business people on the move opt for private medical insurance, says Antony Brown, regional general manager - Africa for InterGlobal.
Top quality private medical insurance will pay for regular and emergency care at hospitals and clinics, meet the cost of drugs and treatments, and cover expenses such as evacuation either by air or road ambulance.
With the cost of health insurance rising, what is the best way to make sure you have a high quality private medical insurance plan that will respond when you need it to, without spending a fortune?
The challenge is to buy the right plan, offering the right level of cover at a reasonable cost.
Insurance plans designed for domestic markets usually provide no protection for people travelling outside their home country, and the cost of international private medical insurance (IPMI) plans can be high.
Fortunately, by deciding exactly what cover is essential, what is optional and where cover is really required, you can buy high quality protection without paying unnecessarily high premiums.
When it comes to international as opposed to domestic plans, you first need to decide exactly where cover is required.
If you will never leave your home or host country and are happy with the sometimes variable standards of local hospital care, a low-cost domestic insurance policy will probably suffice.
For anyone else, whether a regular traveller, business person visiting a number of African countries or an expatriate, an IPMI plan is likely to offer the best protection.
High quality international plans allow you to travel to the nearest centre of excellence for treatment.
For example, if you are a Kenyan businessman based in Nkhotakota in Malawi, you may well prefer to fly to Johannesburg to access the very best regional healthcare rather than receive treatment locally.
While this may sound like an expensive luxury, you are likely to receive better treatment in South Africa and return to work faster – a considerable saving in both expense and sress.
International plans are also portable, allowing you to move from country to country as your skills are required in different jurisdictions.
For instance, if you are a marine engineer you could move from the shipyards of Cape Town to the port of Qualimane in Mozambique, and then on to Dar es Salaam.
A domestic plan would instantly become redundant as you move from country to country, and could even delay your ability to move on if new arrangements could not be set up quickly enough in your new host country.
International private medical insurance will cover all the countries within your geographic area of cover, and no new arrangements are needed as your work takes you from one country to another.
Finally, there is the issue of pre-existing medical conditions. If you buy a local plan in Kampala and then suffer a heart condition, it will most likely cover the cost of treatment.
However, should you then wish to move to a new posting in Nairobi, your local Ugandan plan would not be portable and you would need to purchase a new policy for Kenya.
Unfortunately, the heart condition would then be classed as a "pre-existing medical condition" which a new insurer would be unlikely to cover, or would require stringent additional underwriting.
With an international plan, however, this problem would not arise as your plan would be portable from Uganda to Kenya and would stay in force within all countries covered.
Where you do have a pre-existing medical condition, you are generally faced with one or - if your company has a group schemes - two options.
Some medical insurance providers offer full medical underwriting, where the premium is priced on your specific health giving you certainty about whether your condition is covered.
Employees who are members of larger group schemes may also be able to benefit from medical history disregarded underwriting, where pre-existing conditions and waiting periods do not apply.
For this reason, it is important for you to consider the area of cover required when buying an international plan. The cost of medical treatment varies widely around the world, with the cost of treatment in the USA for example being particularly high.
This cover is clearly unnecessary for most Africans and expatriates who will never travel to North America. Here a regional IPMI plan providing protection for the countries you will actually visit will cost much less.
Most insurers will provide plans that exclude North America, so by making sure your plan covers the right geographic area you can make considerable savings.
Some insurers provide specialist African plans, which offer even lower premiums and are ideal if your work will only be based in the African continent. To provide additional protection, most plans also offer some emergency protection when you are travelling temporarily outside your geographic area of cover.
Choosing the right geographic area of cover is not the only way you can save money on your IPMI plan. In fact, changing the level of benefits or accepting a higher level of excess can offer significant savings on your insurance premiums.
Here are some money-saving tips:
Increase your policy excess
Most IPMI plans have a standard level of excess, with the member paying the first part of each claim. Some plans have the option to increase this excess and reduce the premium in return. Premium savings of up to 40% are available from some insurers for increasing the excess to a high level.
Pay annual premiums upfront
Many plans are priced on the assumption that you will pay your premiums annually, yet many people will choose to pay monthly to spread the cost. Monthly payments can attract premium surcharges of up to 12%, so paying for cover upfront with a single annual payment can offer a considerable saving.
Benefit from no claims discounts
No claims discounts (NCD) on IPMI plans have been controversial in the past, with some arguing that this may discourage people from claiming when it is medically necessary.
In reality, experience shows that members will always claim when they face a medical emergency. As a result, NCDs are becoming increasingly common, frequently offering savings of up to 20% on annual premium.
Check the level of benefits you require
The range of plans on the market are wide, with higher-priced plans offering high levels of cover,including wellness benefits and protection for dental, maternity and optical treatment. Many plans also duplicate cover.
While these additional benefits are valued, they do add considerably to cost. You may simply require a plan which offers access to high quality in-patient treatment, together with access to medical evacuation and repatriation if adequate healthcare cannot be provided locally.
Plans offering this lower level of essential cover are generally priced at a far lower cost than the premium plans.
Create a bespoke plan
Some medical insurance providers will allow you to tailor your plan by removing some benefits you do not require, such as maternity cover if you are a man.
This can reduce your premium, in some cases significantly. For employers with group schemes, some medical insurance providers allow the group scheme to be completely bespoke, removing all unnecessary costs.
For business people, individuals and families, regular travellers and international expatriates it makes sense to have access to top quality healthcare on our continent.
By making sure you buy a plan with the right geographic area of cover and carefully managing your benefits and level of insurance excess, you can secure high quality international health insurance at a cost that will not break the bank.
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