Preconceived ideas about overseas healthcare – its availability and quality – may be affecting purchase decisions, not only those taken by individuals, but also by companies seeking to send their employees abroad for a significant amount of time, as Martin Sellars, head of international PMI at Aviva, explains.
We often ask potential expats and their employers for forthright opinions about going overseas, and all that a family’s relocation could entail. The surveys we conduct give us hard facts that help us discern what our customers think, or think they know, about international private medical insurance (iPMI) – and that helps us ensure clients are well-enough informed about their options before selecting a policy.
Whether you are a relative newcomer to iPMI sales or it has been a part of your portfolio for a while, the responses from our Relocation Research in 2014 probably will not surprise you. When we asked a group of average individuals what appealed most to them about living and working abroad:
* Over half of the individuals we spoke to (52%) thought they would feel less stressed if they lived in a country with better weather or outdoor living.
* Well over a third of the people we spoke to (43%) believed they would have a much healthier lifestyle than they were experiencing currently in the UK.
* Only 37% said the lure of more money would be the main reason for relocating. However only a quarter of our audience (24%) said they were concerned about health and medical systems overseas – and that those facilities would be a cause for concern when they are thinking about relocating for a long period of time.
Challenging the numbers
In our view, that is not a fair representation of the status quo. Rather, it is a sign there is still much to explain about the differences in healthcare availability, worldwide.
Which, in turn, means there is still a case for explaining the value and potential benefits of iPMI in more depth.
It is true that those figures could be interpreted as casting a positive light on our own NHS. After all, here in the UK most of us have the reassurance of knowing a British Accident & Emergency department can treat us; staff working there should have access to our medical records; we will not need to worry about any language barriers in an operating theatre – or about paying a large bill before we leave.
But many potential expats simply are not well-informed about the levels of healthcare available in their destination country – and we maintain there is definitely a need for comprehensive policies that can step in when the NHS is not available.
Understanding the situation
Put yourself in a client’s shoes. Imagine you are making plans to send employees overseas. What is the priority? It may be to make sure there is a good comms link set up, to get accurate feedback about a project. It may be domestic logistics; after all, 36% of the businesses we have spoken to agree it is important to make sure wives, husbands, partners and children are cared for. Schools and cultural connections; accommodation; something like an ‘overseas handbook’ to help the employees’ families settle in with local culture and customs – these are all important points.
Our research also shows there is still much to learn. We encourage businesses to think about the practical elements of an iPMI policy and ask questions such as:
* Is it ‘blanket’ cover, will employees get a real choice? 36% of employers say flexibility is key: can you stipulate which employees get to join wellness programmes, and who’ll be covered in an extended family situation?
* Does the provider have global strength? 37% of employers say this is an important point. We agree. If you are deploying staff to a first-world location this year, such as the North Americas, there is nothing to say that business will not expand its operations to the BRIC nations next year. In fact, our research shows there has been a significant shift in preferred locations. More than a third (37%) of our audience said they were sending employees to ‘new’ expat hotspots.
* In addition to peace of mind, what else would employees receive? 40% of employers think the so-called ‘additional benefits’ are important. That is things like optional additional dental or optical cover, for instance, which – at the same time – makes it possible for businesses to offer alternative levels of cover to different tiers of employees.
* How easy will it be to administrate this insurance policy? 36% of employers said this is one of the most important factors for them. We understand why. If you can not rely on a provider to make the paperwork easy at home, how can you be sure they will take care of documentation elsewhere? For true peace of mind, we make every effort to provide the kind of tools that are practical for every employee who is being sent overseas, well before the secondment begins. That includes information about what is needed, healthcare-wise, for visa applications; local insights about health and fitness; and all the details they will need for themselves and their families if they do need emergency treatment, or to make a claim.
Sharing insights, educating your clients
Everyone has their limits on what they can afford, we know that. Everyone may have a different opinion about what represents true value for money, too. But if you are advising on iPMI then it may be useful to bear research like this in mind when you are trying to understand what your clients’ needs and priorities are.
Above all, we think advisers should explore how much their clients know about the countries employees will be working in, and it is our belief that you can educate them, with our help, about the value of having the right private medical insurance policy in place before they reach the departure lounge.
This article was first published in HI Daily’s In Focus supplement on iPMI which is available as a free download here.