As an expatriate, making sure your health and wellness needs are adequately met is one of the most important things to consider when planning your move abroad. Depending on the country, often times medical facilities and their practices can be very different than what many people are used to in their home country.
One of the best ways to make sure that you are not put in the overwhelming situation of trying to navigate a foreign country’s healthcare system, is by protecting yourself with international health insurance coverage. This will usually cover doctor’s visits, vaccinations, health checks and prescriptions. There are even options to cover other items like chiropractor visits or physiotherapy treatment.
In 2003, China and Hong Kong experienced a SARS pandemic; the first one in recorded history. This pneumonia-like disease began infecting people in China, Hong Kong and Vietnam; eventually spreading to 37 countries around the world. Especially scary was the virus’ quick rate of infection – in less than nine months, SARS managed to infect an estimated 8,000 people, leading to the deaths of nearly 800.
These frightening statistics give some clue as to why health officials in Saudi Arabia and surrounding countries are more than a little concerned that just this week, at least two more people have died from a SARS-like virus. This virus has been infecting citizens on the Arabian Peninsula since last year, but recently, deaths related to the virus have greatly increased – the World Health Organization reports a current death toll of eighteen. Read more
The political struggles of Pakistan are well publicized: party offices under attack, pre-election bombings, and entire cities being shut down due to domestic terrorism. Unfortunately, it is politically unstable places like Pakistan that struggle the most in terms of health care, especially when it comes to children. This month, news network Al Jazeera has been running a story on the problems Pakistan faces with early childhood deaths from pneumonia and diarrhea. Read more
When National Public Radio aired a program last year about violence and safety in Cairo, the broadcasters began with a story about a gym. This women’s fitness center, opened by Sally Salema in 2008, was immediately popular with Cairo women looking for a place to work out and keep healthy – women could come to the gym, stay fit, and not worry about being seen by men while not wearing a veil. However, since the 2011 toppling of ex- president Hosni Mubarak, crime in Cairo has risen, and Salema’s gym has barely managed to stay in business.
Salema’s story is an unfortunate example of how poor safety on the streets can lead to the problem of poor health long term. Read more
The problem of tuberculosis in India is multifaceted: Years of inequitable distribution of health care services helped an epidemic grow, and while public health response to tuberculosis has greatly improved in the past two decades, drug resistance is greatly complicating these positive strides.
In Part 1 of “India and Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis,” we looked at tuberculosis in India, and how drug-resistant strains (collectively known as MDR-TB) are occurring more and more. In Part 2, we will take a look at the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Program’s 2012 response plan for tackling MDR-TB in India. Read more
Counterfeit handbags and counterfeit sunglasses may be a bane to the fashion industry, but they’re probably not going to kill anyone. Counterfeit drugs, on the other hand, just might. Thanks to a study published last week in the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, we now know that counterfeit tuberculosis drugs are shockingly common, and they are helping to create more dangerous and drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis. Read more
Smog, tobacco smoke, car exhaust fumes – we all know that pollution is bad, and there’s no mystery about where it comes from. Most of us, however, do not stop to consider that not all air pollution occurs outdoors. Indoor air pollution, usually resulting from the use of unclean fuel in traditional cook stoves, is an extremely pressing issue to environmental and personal health in many parts of the world. Read more
2012 saw the best financial results for international medical insurer William Russell, with a 30 percent increase in business from the previous year. The opening of a new sales support office in Hong Kong has also enabled the insurer to reach more clients in Asia, and ensures better service and support. Read more
The patient lies on the operating table, eyes closed, body covered in thick blue plastic. If he were awake, he would be hearing the strangest sound right now – a rustling, clicking sound; a sound of steel fingers softly rubbing together. If the patient were awake, his eyes might fly open in surprise, and before him he would see it: A machine as tall as he, four thick white arms, long slim fingers made of rods and knives, a robot towering over him.
If this sounds like a scene from a science fiction movie, well, it’s not. Welcome to the future.
William Russell has announced a new campaign for 2013 that is designed to combat trends of excessive premium inflation in the UAE. The international insurance provider has decided to offer increased flexibility to its clients when they make a choice on their medical network options and prices. Cheaper provider networks will soon be available for clients who are looking for a chance to manage existing claims costs at their own discretion, and based on their needs or situation at the time.
Read the rest of the William Russell & Medical insurance UAE article
Leading international health insurance provider, IHI Bupa recently announced their premium increases for 2013, which have come in at the lowest percentage increase recorded by the company in five years. This tapering off of increasing health insurance premiums is a trend that seems to be occurring across the health insurance industry. Globalsurance, one of the largest distributors of IHI Bupa plans, has seen many other providers offering premiums that are slowing down in their rate of increase and believes this is likely due to falling medical inflation worldwide.
For more than 30 years, IHI Bupa has been a leading provider of international health insurance policies for expatriates and high-net worth individuals all over the world. Distributors and customers all tout IHI Bupa to be one of the best in the industry, and the company has formed an especially strong presence in Asia. Their policies include coverage in all parts of the world, including in the USA and are guaranteed renewable for life, an option that other providers are often apprehensive about offering.
The distribution of offshore International health plans to wealthy individuals in South America has been a successful and lucrative market for many decades. IHI Denmark in particular, had built a considerable amount of its success in this part of the world over the years. In 2012 however, a combination of location regulation and poor plan performance has resulted in most key offshore providers pulling out of Latin America.
Bupa and IHI Bupa, who had perhaps the biggest offshore portfolio in South America, have stopped selling offshore plans into the market. In 2004, Bupa took over the IHI portfolio after acquiring IHI Denmark. The insurer then went on to purchase US-based AMEDEX Insurance in 2005 which serviced 100,000 people in 42 countries throughout Latin America.
Bupa are now looking to push the Latin American product range, citing reasons for the change being driven by compliance requirements. Several countries in Latin America have raised the stakes as international insurers are now exposed to draconian punitive fines for selling health policies within their country without a license. These potential fines are measured in sizeable percentages of global revenue. Bupa’s response is understandable; as they try to fill the gap with onshore Bupa Latin America plans (Bupa LA is now available in Brazil once more). However, Globalsurance analysts believe that Bupa’s offshore plans were better value for money, and that clients can now find deals from local onshore providers who have become competitive. That said, clients in the region are sensitive to branding, and the Bupa brand remains strong, thereby enabling it to access a large part of the market.
President Obama meets today with both Myanmar’s party leaders in Rangoon, the country’s commercial centre. It will be the first official visit for a sitting US President to Myanmar (also known as Burma) in an effort to support recent reforms undertaken by its President Thein Sein. Obama has revealed a strategy that ‘re-focuses on engaging fast-growing Asian nations’, choosing South East Asia as his first destination since his re-election as Head of State.
From the 21st of December 2012 European insurers will no longer be able to use gender as criteria when assessing risk factors to price premium plans. The European Court of Justice ruled a decision in March 2011 determining that insurance policies reliant on gender factors were incompatible with the prohibition of discrimination under the European Union. The final Article prohibits:
“…any results whereby differences arise in individuals’ premiums and benefits due to the use of gender as a factor in the calculation of premiums and benefits.”
Initial plans for the Gender Directive began in 2004, with the goal to enforce equality for men and women when accessing goods and services. The Directive would dismiss the use of actuarial factors related to sex when insurance companies determined the provision of insurance to clients. Individual plans could no longer be calculated using gender as a factor. Despite the campaign, the court ruled that insurance companies could continue to identify sex as a determining factor when defining differences between premiums and benefits.
In order to help develop growth and regulation of professional insurance services in South East Asia, The World Bank is looking to appoint Thailand as the new ASEAN insurance hub.
The Office of the Insurance Commission (OIC) made the decision in line with the formation of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) scheduled to be ready in 2015. With ‘regional economic integration’ as the ultimate goal for the AEC, the insurance industry will be keeping a close eye on the role Thailand will play in promoting insurance products throughout the region.
Read the rest of the Thailand to be ASEAN Insurance Centre article
November 8th marked the official re-branding of the AXA Minmetals Ultracare International Medical Insurance Plan in China with a new, updated name, ICBC AXA Ultracare. The move comes after the shift in the majority shareholding from Minmetals to ICBC.
This change is only one of a few to have occurred in regard to the ICBC medical plan in China. Globalsurance CEO, Neil Raymond notes that these modifications are definitely steps in the right direction; “The ICBC AXA plan was the first true global health plan in China to be onshore and licensed, initially with RSA, then Minmetals and now finally ICBC. During this transition the plan has had its ups and downs but we feel very positive about the current changes,” he said.
Some of the other changes that have taken effect refer to plan benefits and premiums. These changes are seen as a positive shift by analysts at Globalsurance, and they maintain optimistic outlooks that this plan will continue to perform well.
Globalsurance, with great excitement, can announce that as of November 1st 2012, Allianz Worldwide Care individual premiums will increase by just 5 percent. This increase rate is all the more impressive when put into context with the 11 percent global average increase over the past 5 years across the Private Medical Insurance sector.
Despite bleak global economic outlooks and rising inflation, Allianz has remained successful in the iPMI sector and in the last five years their average increase has come in at only 8 percent as highlighted within Globalsurance’s latest Insurance Review.
A recent publication from the Singapore Department of Statistics has stated that the city state has continued to see a year-over-year increase in its population from 5.18 million in 2011 to 5.31 million in 2012. However, the reality of the situation is that annual population growth has slowed from 3.5% to 2.5% and officials and academics in Singapore have recognized that the city may eventually run into the same aging population issues that have begun to effect other developed countries.
Read the full article here
Following a tribute in the London 2012 Olympics that was broadcast to the world, the NHS is encouraging its member trusts to do the same and expand globally in a bid aimed at funding health services in the United Kingdom. The idea originated in the Labour Party and is now gaining speed to expand the National Health Service beyond the UK’s borders. However, will this idea affect the costs and quality of care for current residents of the UK?
The government is supporting a recommendation for large private hospitals, such as the Great Ormond Street, Royal Marsden, and Guy’s and St. Thomas’. Following the model set by Moorfields Eye Hospital in London which has set up shop in Dubai, the UK hopes to emulate the success which Moorfields’ Dubai branch has seen since its establishment overseas in 2007.
Governmental officials say that these large hospitals and entities should utilize their profits derived from their private practices and use them to develop healthcare assets overseas. After the overseas operations are established, profits from the entity should be rerouted back to the NHS to fund ongoing improvements to the UK healthcare system.
The NHS aims to make itself a global leader in providing healthcare by marketing itself as a recognizable name worldwide. By setting up hospitals overseas, it can market its services and create a demand for it.
“The NHS will be bringing together the Department of Health, the UK Trade, the National Commission Board, and form an organization that will help healthcare providers in [the UK] and develop those skills and sell them abroad for the benefit of the patients in [the UK],” says Health Minister Anne Milton, a Member of Parliament of Britain. Any kind of profits will have to be redirected back to the benefit of NHS patients, in a scheme which Ms. Milton says is a, “Win-win.”
The government is currently eyeing hospitals and institutions with great international reputations, allowing for an easier uptake of the program. Once the program becomes more successful, the government should open it up to smaller private healthcare providers.
What’s unclear at the moment is exactly where the doctors and medical practitioners will be sourced from. There are two possibilities: The NHS could source the staff from their own current employees – after all, they are the world’s fifth largest employer. Alternatively, the NHS could source the staff internationally, which could also be feasible because of the vast number of readily available professionals around the world. However, there are possible negative effects of both methods of sourcing which need to be taken into consideration.
First, if the NHS proceeds with sourcing from existing NHS staff, skilled workers in the UK may be less readily available. With workers being asked to work abroad, there could be a premium added to their salary, as well as other fringe benefits which compensate workers for their move. In addition, as these workers will be a direct foreign representation of the organization itself, there is a high chance that highly skilled workers will be recruited to move overseas first. More skilled workers may also be more adept at adapting to challenging situations, further making them a target for recruitment overseas. However, this will draw the UK’s more skilled healthcare workers away from the UK system, potentially lowering the standard of care in the country. This also represents a costlier decision because of the need to incentivize doctors to go abroad by adding benefits to their compensation packages.
What if the NHS decides to hire internationally? The goal of the NHS is to export the “brand names” of the NHS that have international and esteemed reputations. As such, it could be contradictory to start a new branch with staff who do not previous history with the NHS in essential, and especially management, roles. It would make most sense for the NHS to at least fill higher level roles with skilled medical practitioners from the NHS in order to preserve the level of service. Moreover, an international hire may not inspire as much confidence in local patients who are seeking high quality international care based on the NHS brand name. Why would they need to go to the potentially more expensive NHS which features a local hire if they can receive the same type of treatment at a potentially lower cost? Furthermore, hiring the best doctors available locally in the oversea hospital’s area might cause issues for the local healthcare system, especially if there is already an ongoing shortage of doctors in the region. If the NHS doesn’t hire in the target area but still recruits internationally, it may still represent a higher cost because of relocation packages and expatriate salaries that they may need to attract international hires.
Will the costs of healthcare increase because of the expansion? As mentioned earlier, highly skilled workers may be incentivized to take up positions in the new hospital developments overseas. As such the ability to properly provision healthcare for the nation may be reduced if the NHS does not replenish or properly account for the departure of some of its staff. Moreover, the NHS has been widely reported to be experiencing a significant shortage of workers, despite being the world’s 5th largest employer. Shortages of nurses and doctors are, in some cases, extreme, as data from the Department of Health indicates that some family doctors may be responsible for as many as 9000 patients. A new development requiring skilled practice may hinder the system, preventing patients in the UK from having adequate access to much needed healthcare services.
The demand for medical practitioners is high in the UK. There is a general shortage for the medical field, vastly due to the amount of doctors leaving the UK for better packages worldwide. In a recent report by the Policy Research Programme in the Department of Health, UK doctors are being offered attractive benefits packages, better living standards, higher control of their work, and in places with better living conditions than the UK. This incentivizes many highly trained doctors to move abroad, resulting in a shortage of doctors able to provide important healthcare services. Some of the doctors surveyed also indicated that they were disillusioned by the NHS, stating that it was bureaucratic and limiting.
This expansion overseas will not affect the highly specialized private hospitals which have a well-recognized name brand – in fact it may be quite easy bring in profits as foreigners may be attracted to these brand names. However, whether smaller hospitals will be capable of following suit or willing to remains to be seen. Many hospitals in the UK are currently designed to be providing an essential service to the community and gearing them towards acting as for-profit multinational companies may cause them to lose focus on providing quality care within the UK. If managed poorly, the implementation of this program could cause shortages and cuts to existing services as hospitals direct their attentions and funds overseas. This could affect prices negatively for the patients they service locally in the UK. With the significant burden that many general practitioners already face – upwards of 3,000 patients per doctor, some even 9,000 – and in the middle of a large scale reorganization of the NHS, the main focus should be improving these services and ensuring that the new system provides the benefits its supposed to.
This leads to a discussion about the focus of the NHS – should this really be what they are redirecting resources towards? The NHS is asking for their hospitals and entities to redirect profits from private health practice to fund their international developments. While the NHS does provide quality services to UK citizens, waiting times for both scheduled treatment and A&E care are a serious problem due to a lack of beds and medical professionals.
Could this expansion affect healthcare costs and insurance premiums? There is a possibility this could happen if the private hospitals which are establishing hospitals overseas increase charges on private care in order to raise funds to start the overseas ventures. Similarly, if the overseas private hospital programs lead to increased brain-drain on UK doctors, it could drive up the costs of private care further. Both of these possibilities could have knock on effects on the private health insurance system in the UK, which is already trying to avoid large premium rises to avoid off putting customers.
Given the NHS budget freezes and cost savings put in place as part of QIPP (Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention) policies in the UK, it is understandable that new sources of income are being investigated and considered. However, it is of the utmost importance that these efforts do not come at the expense of local capabilities, especially during the largest reorganization of the NHS system in years.
Teetering on the brink of economic collapse is Greece, the land of ancient mythological deities, and like the Gods before them hopes and beliefs in a timely turnabout for the Greek economy are dwindling hastily. At hand is the issue of the Eurozone: does Greece stay within and keep the Euro, or will it revert back to the obsolete drachma, the original Grecian currency which existed prior to 2001?
If the Eurozone were to retract it’s inclusion of Greece, there could be drastic effects which affect not only Greece, but the entire Eurozone as well. Specifically, the once-Eurozone-greats of Spain, Italy, and Portugal, who similarly share severely weakened economies, are significantly at risk should the Greek make an exit. It is ironic that the four major players pulling down the system are Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain – bearing the acronym of PIGS.
What are some of the possible issues at hand? How will the lifestyle and welfare of the residents be affected? And something more topical, with the state of Greece’s public funding slashed, what will happen to healthcare and health insurance?
Should the Greek system withdraw its participation in the Eurozone, there will be widespread effects across economies not just in the Eurozone, but around the world as well. In preparation for the withdrawal, the Greek banks will probably limit the amount that a person can withdraw from their bank accounts to prevent a bank run and a collapse of Greek banks. Greeks will need to endure the changeover of their currency from Euros to drachma as well as the subsequent devaluation of the drachma. The Euro will most likely be converted to the drachma at a pre-defined rate which will remain fixed for the duration of the changeover. As it stands, the exchange rate, which was revised in April of 2012, stood at 1:340.75. There is a glimmer of hope: many sophisticated investors and those with significant savings have already shifted their funds out of their Greek banks into foreign banks. What this means is that if Greece were to recover, the money is ready to come back in, without experiencing a dismal devaluation.
Once Greece exits, there will be defaults on their debt, which still hold their face values in Euro dollars. Even with 95 billion euros of the debts face value wiped, it still represents almost 265 billion euros. But what kind of implications will that have on the other countries whose economies are also at risk? Spain, Portugal and Italy’s liquidity is affected significantly due to investor fears of economic collapse and worries about debt repayment. Since all three countries require debt financing and liquidity for day-to-day activities, the loss of foreign investments can cause serious liquidity issues. The financial health of these countries could be in considerable trouble, especially since Italy and Portugal carry a considerable amount of debt – with inabilities to pay off the interest payments on loans and bonds, both countries could default. Currently, both countries owe more than their annual GDP.
If it turns out that Greece needs to roll in the new currency, the drachma, the currency that most likely will replace the Greek Euro, will take time to officially come into place. Experts predict that it will take four months until the currency is printed and entered back into circulation. Until then, monies held in bank accounts will likely be changed immediately, while the physical Euro, or at least those denoted by a Y which is the Greek country code, will still be accepted with those.
After the drachma is returned to the Greeks, what will likely happen is inflation, or worse, hyperinflation – you may have seen those old photos of people carrying a wheel barrel of cash just to buy a loaf of bread, or starting a fire with the local currency. If hyperinflation takes place, and this may become a reality for the Greeks should the drachma drastically devalue after its introduction, a basket of goods does not. The relative value of a drachma compared to that basket of goods will widen, resulting in the price of goods soaring.
Moreover, as the drachma is worth less and less, imports become exponentially more expensive. This is not good news for Greece as it is a net import state – Greece imports more than it exports, including food. Conversely, exports will receive a great benefit from the devaluation as one of Greece’s biggest export, tourism, will surely rise due to inexpensive holidays and cheap money.
Inflation, or hyperinflation, will cause Greece to be highly unaffordable for many of those struggling amidst the grip of unemployment; stability in the region will be hard to attain until the government gets back on its feet and is able to borrow again. Residents of Greece may leave the country in a bid to reduce the effect of the devaluation, but measures may be put in place to restrict some of these movements, including provisions on bank account withdrawals.
Compounding the damage is the cut in public spending and governmental policies which affect the business community. Specifically, a lowered minimum wage will have negative effects on residents’ ability to afford goods, making daily necessities difficult to attain. Greece’s two-tiered wage cut, was disproportionately hard on the younger generation, with the minimum wage for those under 25 cut 32 percent, instead of 22 percent. The effects of this and other cuts are being felt more acutely as goods become more expensive. As there are proponents of a spending method to get out of a recession, it seems like this is almost an impossible option for Greece at the moment whose debt outpaces its GDP by over 170%.
Businesses may begin to fail – their ability to borrow money and to keep a sufficient flow of business will be seriously affected by the devaluation of drachma. Furthermore, as citizens concerns start to turn towards more essential goods, such as accommodation, food, and other necessities, relative luxury goods and services become less important in their lives. Businesses suffer due to the lack of demand for their goods and may be forced to close doors.
And what about the necessities of healthcare and the ability to receive healthcare? Already, hospitals all over Greece are feeling a financial asphyxiation which is being transferred to the patients. Supplies are low and resources are lower. As public benefits decline, people increasingly turn to the public hospitals to receive treatment where the waits are long but the prices are lower. Significant changes have been made to treatment policies, allowing only for serious cases to be treated in a timely manner, or at all. There have been numerous reports of supplies being stolen, especially syringes and gloves.
Citizens’ ability to receive healthcare will be negatively impacted and will continue to worsen as the burden on health services is driven by the declining health of citizens. Wait times will be compounded as hospitals are flooded with demand for healthcare and an increasing lack of personnel and resources to service them. Doctors and nurses may flee to private hospitals or other countries in the wake of cuts to benefits, increases to workload and the potential of frozen salaries.
The medical system is already beginning to collapse. Big Pharmaceutical companies are refusing to provide medication because of the inability of hospitals and clinics to pay. In some cases, doctors and nurses are providing healthcare and treatment with no pay and can endure such a lifestyle for only so long.
Medical insurance will be equally negatively impacted in the near future. As businesses feel the increasing effects of the slowdown, so will local health insurers as business functions are hampered by inabilities to borrow and inflation makes existing or collected premiums insufficient for providing coverage. Moreover, premiums collected before the collapse may be converted to the drachma from the Euro and may not be enough to cover the cost of providing healthcare once devaluation sets in. Premiums will probably need to rise in order to keep pace and many may cancel their plans and opt for basic health coverage through the government because they cannot afford to keep up with the increasing premiums. This is under the assumption that the Greek government will continue to provide subsidized health coverage – under austerity measures, subsidized health coverage could very well be one of the earlier things that a government will cut. This will likely result in the collapse of many local health insurers, leaving those previously insured with them without coverage.
As for international health insurance in Greece, premiums for new plans should increase. Since premiums are calculated based on a community rating, the risk profile for those in Greece is increasing alongside the cost of providing healthcare in Greece. Those who do not have health insurance should consider purchasing an international health insurance plan prior to any change in currency that may take place. The plan will be good for the year before the devaluation takes effect, resulting in confirmed coverage for the higher costs of healthcare. It will be a money saving route for the long run. As for existing international health insurance premiums, they too will probably increase in the coming years because it will be costlier to provide healthcare in the country given the lack of supplies or credit to purchase them, as well as the possible need for more people to travel abroad to seek treatment. Furthermore, the health of the residents may continue to decline, resulting in a riskier health profile to the insurance companies, especially since big pharmaceutical companies are wary of providing more supplies on credit.
This makes acquiring an international health insurance policy in Greece much more attractive now rather than later. Before the conditions are unfavorable for you to acquire insurance, acquiring now is a safe way to hedge your bets against both financial and healthcare problems in the future.
There is salvation in sight: with the devaluation of the drachma, many exports become significantly more inexpensive across the world. This makes Greeks exports attractive, helping the country get on its way to recover. However, if the country does not exit the Euro, recovery could be long and arduous.
With Greece controlling its own currency and fiscal policies, it can make provisions and decisions which can bring it out of its slump faster. For example, if Greece wanted to increase its exports, it could further devalue its currency by printing more of it. In addition, Greece has free reign to set its own interest rates, which could facilitate lending and financing throughout the region.
Argentina and Latvia are similar examples of the two options which Greece is faced with: stay with the old currency or move on to their own. Argentina was pegged to the US dollar and Latvia is part of the Eurozone. When faced with their financial meltdowns, Argentina opted to discard the pegging and Latvia decided to stay with the Euro.
What happened was Argentina’s peso devalued significantly and unemployment soared, as did inflation. But quickly after, Argentina crawled out of their depression and reached their peak output levels in just a few years. In contrast, Latvia struggled significantly while under the Euro and GDP growth plunged to the deep negatives. Living conditions continued to decrease and is projected to start recovering in the coming years.