Posted on Jul 27, 2012 by Sergio Ulloa
There have been a number of notable changes in International Private Medical Health Insurance in the last few weeks, while not as earth shattering as the Libor scandal or the crop failures in the US, the progressive and continual changes reveal an industry that is currently very dynamic and competitive. While Bupa is launching products to fill gaps it sees in the IPMI market, US healthcare giant UnitedHealth Group is steadily working to increase the scope and quality of their international healthcare cover. Medicare International has been tuning their products to keep them competitive, and have made efforts to keep premium increases down to a minimum.
Bupa, one of the world's largest insurers, has recently announced a new range of international private medical insurance products called Bupa Flex. Until now, international health insurance policies were only available for a minimum of one year, but Bupa Flex aims to provide the benefits of traditional long term international medical cover without the usual 12 month minimum duration. It is aimed at international travellers and expats who are planning to be abroad for a period of between 3 to 11 months. Now, people moving abroad for short term transfers can tailor the duration of their policy to their exact needs. It offers benefits above short term travel insurance because policyholders can increase the duration of their cover at any time, and even convert to long term health insurance without a loss of or break in cover.
An innovative aspect of Bupa Flex is that it is managed online. Bupa has created a secure online portal called Membersworld, through which subscribers can manage almost every aspect of their insurance cover. The portal allows clients to access their policy documentation, request pre-authorisation for planned treatments, submit claims and access live 24 hour webchat with experienced advisors. The service also uses email and SMS alerts to notify members of the status of their claims, or to alert them that there are documents online which require their attention.
Bupa Flex comes in two flavours; Bupa Flex and Bupa Flex Plus. The basic plan covers inpatient and day care treatment, local air and road ambulances costs, and outpatient surgical operations. Bupa Plus adds a full range of out-patient coverage as well. Because of the short term nature of the products, there are no options to add maternity, newborn care or cancer benefits. Both plans have a total limit of GBP1 million (USD 1.7 million) and do not offer cover in the United States.
NIB and Unitedhealthcare International Join Forces in Australia
NIB, Australia's fifth largest health insurer, and UnitedHealthcare, based in Minnesota, have signed a strategic partnership whereby NIB will support UnitedHealthcare's international health insurance members in Australia. The deal gives UnitedHealthcare International customers access to NIB's network of healthcare providers in Australia, which includes more than 500 hospitals. It extends UnitedHealthcare's customers direct settlement options at a wider range of healthcare facilities in Australia, like dentists and opticians.
UnitedHealthcare sells international expat medical insurance, under their Global Solutions brand, to employers with employees based internationally. "UnitedHealthcare International's clients are benefiting from our expanding global health care network, providing their employees with seamless access to high quality health care. A growing number of our clients have operations in Australia, and they now will have access to top hospitals and care providers there," said Simon Stevens, president of Global Health at the UnitedHealth Group.
The company recently set up a similar alliance with Dubai-based Al Sagr National Insurance Company, to expand their Global Solutions coverage to seven countries in the Middle East. Through this alliance, UnitedHealthcare members have access to local services in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Lebanon and Kuwait.
NIB currently provide healthcare cover in Australia to about 20,000 international customers, and are aggressively working to position themselves for expansion into the international healthcare market. "We have a view that increasingly people will need global health insurance cover and that if we don't have an involvement in this phenomenon we could be missing an enormous opportunity," said Mark Fitzgibbon, CEO of NIB.
UnitedHealth Group serves 75 million people worldwide through its family of US and international health and well-being businesses and are the market leaders in supporting employers with international workforces.
While there is no reciprocal agreement in place for NIB customers in the USA, NIB may be hoping to expand their international healthcare coverage through partnerships of this kind.
Medicare improves international health cover
Medicare International has made a number of improvements to its international health insurance products.
Organ transplantation and HIV/AIDS benefits will now be included in their International and International Plus policies at no extra cost, with the transplantation benefit carrying a limit of USD 170,000 for the International, International Plus and Executive plans which rises to USD 340,000 with the Executive Plus plan. The HIV/AIDS benefit will be subject to a two year waiting period, and will have a lifetime limit of USD 17,000 across all plans.
Maternity and complicated or abnormal pregnancy cover available on the Executive and Executive Plus packages will no longer be subject to an excess of 20% and 30% respectively. and the 20% co-payment on newborn care has been scrapped. The reduction in out-of-pocket expenses may be a welcome change, as simplifying and streamlining the process at a stressful time may increase the perceived value to policyholders.
Claims are also no longer subject to a USD 5100 limit for group and individual claims, but claims are now fully recoverable and without any cap, subject to the policy limits of USD 1.7 million per annum.
Price rises for 2012 have also been well below the expected annual medical inflation rate of 12-14%, with an average increase of 8% for individual plans and just 5% for group policies. With the current state of the economy, it is a welcome change to see policies undergo significant improvement while still keeping premium increases in check.
The competitiveness of the International Health Insurance market, the rising demand and scope for growth into developing parts of the world, like East Asia, are keeping insurers on their toes. We can expect a continuing stream of innovative products and new solutions as insurers contend for market share.