Healthcare insurers taking full advantage of the rise in expat numbers

Published:  8 Apr at 6 PM
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It seems the much-derided ‘nanny state’ in first world countries is now being replaced by the rapacious private healthcare industry in just about every popular expat destination.

'Private healthcare insurance' is the new buzzword for greedy insurance companies looking to profit from the expat diaspora gathering speed in countries across the world. Private hospitals are springing up like mushrooms in the most unlikely places, staffed by the same medics formerly constrained to public medical facilities dealing with expats as well as local people at fixed prices. The healthcare sector is now a goldmine for insurers and practitioners as well as investors with more cash than scruples.

Right now, some 250,000 expats are living outside their home countries, having left for reasons as diverse as study, career progression, love of travel, entrepreneurship, retirement and dissatisfaction with the land of their birth. Being globally mobile is this century’s equivalent to moving from a provincial town to the capital, and multinationals are now establishing local offices in places their employees may never have heard of. As yet, the majority of expats, especially those in the tech sector, are young, enthusiastic and happily spreading out across the planet, staying for a while wherever they please.

As regards global health insurance, international companies with bases in major countries have provided private health insurance for their expat workers for one good reason – the local hospitals may not have the expertise to deal with major traumas or illnesses and flying employees to a decent hospital in another country is very expensive. Even nowadays, finding a truly competent medical professional in third-world or developing countries can be a lottery at best and a tragedy at worst. In spite of the reality of the worldwide medical sector, it’s now fashionable to have private medical insurance, even if you’re in a country such as Spain, one of the world’s top providers of medical expertise and also one of the world’s least expensive.

A recent suggestion that medical insurance is essential for international students and NGO volunteers doesn’t address the practicality of who’s going to pay for it. University tuition, accommodation and transportation doesn’t come free, nor do the vast majority of volunteering stints in third-world hubs. The recent trend of immigration authorities insisting on private health insurance before visas are granted may well be fine for upscale expat professionals head-hunted by multinationals, but for British pensioners heading for drier, warmer, cheaper climes in which to spend their declining years it’s a killer, especially as medical services may well not be all their advertisements suggest.

The trend of refusing admittance to an overseas hospital until a large deposit has been paid is spreading like a disease, as is overcharging for basic facilities as well as for medications easily obtained at a fraction of the price in local pharmacies. It’s been suggested the professional push for private healthcare insurance is being fueled by increasingly strict governmental regulations against the mis-selling of long-term savings plans and other such products designed to enrich insurers and their salesmen at the expense of customers. Perhaps the best way to preserve good health in the ever-increasing world expat population is to concentrate on a healthy lifestyle so that health insurance and stays in over-priced private medical facilities isn’t needed, nor is the insurance to cover it.
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