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As an expat, what do you need to know about healthcare systems in Asia?

In the first episode of Abroad With Care, Andrea welcomes Amelie Dionne, co-founder and managing director of Alea, a leading health insurance broker based in Hong Kong. Amelie Dionne shares her insights and real-life tips to help you better navigate throughout the healthcare systems in Asia.

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Andrea: Navigating healthcare systems in Asia can be quite complex for new expats. Could you give us a quick overview of how healthcare works in Singapore and Hong Kong? 

Amelie : Singapore has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. It was ranked 6th best healthcare system in the world in 2019. Expats can enjoy access to world-class specialist medical staff and excellent healthcare facilities. It is important to know that the price difference is significant between public and private medical providers. 

If you are not a Singaporean citizen or a Permanent Resident, you are not part of the government scheme that covers most healthcare costs. Expats need to get insurance to avoid any hefty bills.

Healthcare in Hong Kong is also recognized as world-class. Both public and private sectors are equipped with the latest medical technology operated by highly trained medical staff, who generally speak good English. However, Hong Kong also has some of the world's highest private healthcare costs. It is the second-highest in the world after the US.

The public health sector provides accessible, quality, and cost-efficient care to the population. But it is known to be overstretched and understaffed. The private health sector operates as a business. When you access private care, you are a consumer making a choice over one facility or another, over one doctor or another. Private providers compete on comfort, choice, wait times, and quality of care. 

Andrea: What can you tell us about the healthcare systems in Thailand and Vietnam?

Amelie: Thailand is an interesting country. It is now the leading medical tourism destination in Asia. Most private hospitals in Thailand have excellent staff, medical facilities, and hotel-like amenities that are arguably better than those in public hospitals. But fees are also more expensive. That said, fees remain less expensive than medical services in the US, Europe, or even Hong Kong or Singapore.

Many expats prefer private healthcare because the quality of care is typically better, expats have greater choice in deciding where they will be treated, there are shorter waiting times to receive treatment and because private facilities are staffed with a higher proportion of English speakers.

Vietnam is a little bit different. There is also a mix of public and private sectors. But most of the private providers are focused on outpatient services while most of the inpatient services are provided by the public sector. 

The standard of private hospitals in Vietnam is said to be excellent. Private hospitals in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City are often staffed by doctors and medical professionals who completed their studies in the United States, Korea, Japan and France. Doctors are likely to speak English or French. That makes it the prime provider for expats. 

Andrea: As we know, many expats come from Europe. What are the key differences between the healthcare systems in Europe and in Asia that expats should be aware of? 

Amelie: Many expats presume that whatever medical cover is provided by the employer in their relocation country is automatically sufficient or automatically extends to family members. That is simply not true.

Something else that we have noticed is that for smaller companies, pre-existing conditions may not be covered. So if you or your family members are under medical treatment, such as asthma, eczema,... you need to explore in advance how you would pay for it in your country of relation in Asia.

Andrea: If we take a concrete example. Let’s say I am moving to Singapore with my company. They provide me with insurance cover but I am moving with my husband and our two children. How could I protect my family too?

Amelie: The first thing to do is to look into your medical coverage offered by your employer. This should be part of your negotiation. You should be asking if this coverage is sufficient and if your dependents are covered. Do not presume it is the case because it is not always. You have to make medical coverage part of your negotiation. 

If you come to learn that your employer cannot provide good enough cover for you and your family, it is recommended that you take private family insurance. 

Andrea: To give a quick summary, in order to make my family protected, what would be the first things to check when moving to Asia?

Amelie: First, make sure that health insurance is a priority. Second, you have to ask your employer the details of the health insurance plan and whether there are any voluntary upgrade or top-up options. This is often provided in large companies and can provide you better cover at better rates. My last recommendation is to shop around. Talk to different insurance advisors. Knowledge is power. The last thing that you want is to be worrying about medical bills when you or a loved one is sick. 

Abroad With Care is available on most podcast platforms, such as Apple Podcast, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Podcast Addict. Subscribe today and make sure not to miss out on any of our short episodes! 

 

New to Asia and in need of Health Insurance? APRIL International has been helping to protect people's health and finances around the world for 30 years; now insuring over 130,000 expats, permanent residents, and local nationals. We provide personalized quotations for yourself or for your family's health needs. Visit our website today to find out more!

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