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Should you choose a local or international health insurance plan?
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When the question comes up as to what kind of medical coverage you want for yourself, your family, or even your company, one of the decisions you will need to make is whether you want to take out a local private health plan or an international health insurance plan.

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Your decision on what kind of insurance plan is best for you will be heavily based on your personal situation; how healthy you are, the quality of the local healthcare system and hospitals, whether you're settled in your country of residence or move frequently, and whether you travel frequently among other factors.

In Hong Kong for instance, public hospitals provide a high quality of care at a completely reasonable cost. Generally, around  HK$1 to HK$200 per day for anyone with a Hong Kong ID card. However, for anything that is not an emergency, it can take weeks to schedule an appointment for surgery or treatment. While scheduling treatment can take days instead of weeks at a private hospital, the costs are substantially higher than at a public hospital, typically thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars.

With that in mind, here are some of the things you may want to consider when comparing local and international health insurance plans.

The cost of your medical insurance plan

In general, expats living abroad may not have access to the full range of benefits a public healthcare system offers, so you will have to take out some kind of private medical insurance policy to cover the costs of healthcare. The biggest concern is the overall price of your plan, and whether or not the benefits it offers makes it worthwhile.

How does your health insurance premium change at renewal?

Health insurance premiums at renewalOne of the biggest advantages of a local health insurance policy is the price. Premiums for local health insurance plans are typically based on your medical history and claims experience with that insurer, so if you're a healthy individual or family with no serious medical issues, premiums can be very cheap.

However, experience-based premiums can have their drawbacks. If you have a serious injury or illness that requires expensive treatment, then your premium for the next year will rise accordingly. Therefore, while a local plan may start out cheap, it can quickly become unaffordable within a few years of expensive claims.

International plans on the other hand, tend to have pool rated premiums. This means that premiums are calculated based on the treatment everyone in your age bracket received during the year and medical inflation, instead of your premium increases being tied to whether or not you or your family got sick or injured.

Benefit limits on your health plan

Another reason local health plans are less expensive is because they tend to include strict limits on covered benefits compared to international health insurance plans. For instance, there may be a sublimit on coverage for cancer treatment which could leave you paying a fair amount of money out-of-pocket once all is said and done, whereas an international health plan would cover the treatment in its entirety up to the annual limit.

These limits can even extend to basic things like surgeons' fees or hospital theater fees, meaning your local plan may only cover up to a certain amount or certain percentage of a specific part of your hospital bill. So while an international plan might fully cover a hospitalisation, a local plan may only cover part of it.

Can you keep renewing your health insurance plan?

One important thing some may take for granted is the ability to keep renewing your plan as long as you like. Many local private health plans refer to it as yearly renewable and may have a cap on the age you can continue to renew your policy up to, usually around the age of 70. Since most people tend to develop more medical conditions as they grow older, being prevented from renewing your insurance can be a serious problem when you are going to be needing it most.

In other cases, if you have had to receive a lot of medical treatment and claim it on your policy, the insurer can just decide to not renew your plan. Worldwide health insurance plans, like APRIL International's MyHEALTH plans , are what is known as guaranteed lifetime renewable, so you will always be able to renew your plan for as long as you need it. You will always be able to renew your health insurance regardless of how old you are or how much you have claimed.

Do you need international protection?

International protectionOne of the things you will have to ask yourself is whether or not you need coverage outside of where you are living, which could be important for expatriates, or those who travel frequently for business or vacations. As the names imply, a local plan will only provide you coverage in that country, while an international plan will typically offer coverage either worldwide, or worldwide excluding the USA (although these plans will usually provide 30 days of cover for emergencies even outside your area of cover).

If you are on a local medical plan, you can always take out travel insurance to cover any emergencies, or a short-term international health insurance plan for longer travels abroad such as sabbaticals or an extended trip. However, it is important to note that in some cases where serious medical treatment is needed, a travel plan may focus on transporting you back to your country of residence, after which the travel insurance company will no longer have to cover your treatment in your home country.

International health insurance plans, whether long or short-term, will include coverage for emergency medical evacuation and assistance, which includes evacuating you to a place where you can receive quality medical care, medical referrals, second opinions, tele-medicine consultations and more.

Direct billing for medical expenses

One of the benefits of a local health insurance is that they often have extensive cashless billing networks in the country they cover. This can cover both hospitals as well as doctors and clinics and can make your life much easier as you do not have to pay for treatment - which can be quite expensive - and claim for reimbursement.

While some international health insurance plans, like APRIL International's MyHEALTH plans in Asia, do have outpatient direct billing networks for your added convenience, all of them allow you the freedom to choose your own doctors and hospitals at will.

Do you need to take your health insurance with you when moving?

Health insurance portabilityIf you are an expat who frequently moves countries due to your job, or if you plan to move back to your home country at some point in the future, then one thing you will want to consider is how you will be covered when you move. If you are on a local plan, then you will have to take out a new plan once you have moved. This can be an issue if you have developed a medical condition or suffered a serious illness, as the insurer in your new home may treat it as a pre-existing condition and exclude it from coverage.

The majority of international health insurance plans are globally portable, so you can take them with you when you move. This means there are no breaks in your insurance coverage and there is no need to go through the underwriting process again which means you are not in danger of having pre-existing conditions excluded from coverage under your new plan.

APRIL International health insurance, the best of both worlds

Whether you are preparing to expatriate to a new country, are already living abroad or looking for comprehensive health insurance to cover the costs of healthcare, our expert advisers are always ready to help you find the right international health insurance plan. You can browse our range of international health plans  we have designed to provide you the best coverage in Asia or contact us today for more information.

Our range of plans is designed to offer international coverage for people based in Hong KongSingapore , Thailand , VietnamIndonesia and the Philippines .

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