Expats turn their backs on international medical insurance due to soaring costs

Published:  21 Oct at 6 PM
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A recent survey revealed that 25 per cent of UK expats no longer believe that costly international medical insurance is a necessity.

Factoring in the ever-increasing expense of international health insurance is a headache for all but the wealthiest of expats, wherever in the world they’ve decided to make their new homes. Overseas private hospitals, especially in Asian countries, are businesses first and healthcare providers second.

The 75 per cent of participants who bought health insurance seemed satisfied with the service provided. However, the most popular offering by international insurance companies was the 24/7 customer service helpline rather than the ease of settling overseas hospital bills or the quality of the healthcare itself.

Price was the main reason given by those without international health policies, and 12 per cent of respondents considered that local healthcare services were adequate for their needs. Local health insurance policies at reasonable prices satisfied many expats, especially those living in countries where the cost of living is considerably lower than in the West.

Expat retirees living in Southeast Asia have a choice between international health insurance, local policies or using their savings to pay for medical expenses. Countries in the region are in fierce competition as regards medical tourism, and private hospitals now charge up to double the fees compared with a decade ago.

However, major cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Manila and Singapore as well as popular expat destinations such as Chiang Mai and Hua Hin in Thailand all have state hospitals offering the equivalent or even better services than exist in beleaguered British NHS hospitals. English is spoken, although few practitioners are fluent, and patient care is mostly excellent.

Medical specialists and surgeons in many state hospitals split their time between private and local hospitals, giving expats unable or unwilling to pay exorbitant fees the same expertise as those with expensive international health policies. Access to affordable healthcare is especially important to UK retirees subject to the UK government’s notorious frozen pension scheme.
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