Buying cross-border medical cover

When buying cross-border medical cover, consider the length of trip and whether exclusions can be safely made, and always aim to buy in bulk, says Vicki Taylor

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Business travel policies should provide adequate health cover for staff making short work trips. Employers should read the small print.

Pre-existing conditions, for example, might not be routinely included.

International PMI is more appropriate for staff based overseas for longer periods.

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When looking to purchase medical insurance for staff who are required to travel overseas on business, employers are typically torn between wanting to protect employees’ health and doing so in the most cost-efficient manner. Their healthcare options also depend on the employee’s destination and the length of the trip.

For employees who are only out of their country of domicile for short periods, a business travel policy, which will include some healthcare cover, should be sufficient, says Andrew Wilson, business development and sales manager at Medibroker.

However, employers should take care to read the small print. "A lot of travel plans are designed specifically to take care of emergency [situations] and may not necessarily cover more routine treatment. "It is always worth making sure you know what the exclusions are. One of the biggest areas that people need to be aware of is the treatment of pre-existing medical conditions. Some travel plans cover [this], although it may be either at an extra premium or a higher excess level," Wilson explains.

Andrew Apps, director global sales and business development at Goodhealth Worldwide, adds that companies should also be aware of time limits on business travel policies. "[With some policies] you are only allowed to be out of the country for 60 or 90 days a year and each trip may only be for 30 days or 15 days. "Some people buy travel insurance who are going away for a year or so thinking this is nice and cheap and then find when a claim comes through that they have been out of the country too long and it has become void," says Apps.

Another option is to take out a domestic healthcare plan, such as a private medical insurance (PMI) policy, that includes travel insurance within it. However, few insurers make this option available and employers should also ensure they are aware of any of time restrictions with this type of cover.

"There are domestic PMI products [that cover people] travelling for a very short period of time but you need to be careful about limitations. Quite often there are fairly stringent restrictions," says Wilson. Employees who spend significant amounts of time abroad might be better off with an international PMI policy.

Steve Desbrough, head of international accounts at SPS Wellbeing, says: "International healthcare insurance is usually provided to employees who are sent to live and work abroad for [more than] 90 or 180 days. That will only cover [the employee] – in the main – for the healthcare elements."

But Wilson explains it is not possible to give a ballpark figure for the cost of any of these different types of insurance. "It is impossible to say because the variations are so great depending on the number of people involved, their ages, their location [and] pre-existing conditions."

With international PMI Apps advises bulk buying, which could achieve a 20%-30% discount, and asking insurers to remove cover staff don’t need. "Do unmarried members of staff in their fifties need maternity cover?" he queries.