In many ways, Europe is more connected than ever: most countries use the same currency, visa-free travel is a breeze, and the presence of the European Union means that legislative decisions are made as a collective. However, when it comes to health care and insurance, every country maintains its own system. Indeed, a slew of recent news stories have served as an important reminder for expats and travelers alike that it is essential to understand the care and insurance situation outside of one's own country.
To make life easier for expats, many international companies focus on offering specialized insurance to those who live abroad. In Spain, the insurance group Expat4Sure, links its clients to car insurance, health insurance, and home insurance. Interestingly, in the news this week, it was announced that Expat4Sure will start providing its customers with yet another service - financial planning.
Expat4Sure has partnered with Blacktower Financial Management Group, in an effort to expand the services on offer to expats living in Spain. The Blacktower Group is based in the United Kingdom, while maintaining offices in Spain, Portugal, Italy and France. According to Expat4Sure, the partnership was formed with the needs of expats in mind - along with insurance, financial planning is another key area of necessity for those residing and working in another country.
This kind of expat insurance collaboration has already proven popular with Expat4Sure customers. Sanitexpat, the medical insurance wing of Expat4Sure, works with the British insurance organization BUPA to help customers transfer their policy from one company to the other upon both deciding to expatriate and moving home.
This recent news about Expat4Sure may serve as a reminder for many people that it is important to look into health insurance options while living or traveling abroad. In fact, just last month, the United Kingdom Department of Health joined together with the Valencia Health Authority to create a campaign aimed at informing British expats about the correct way to apply for and use the European Health Insurance Card.
The European Health Insurance Card, or EHIC, is not meant to be used by expats - it is a free card that gives EU citizens access to emergency medical treatment during a short stay in another EU country. With the EHIC, a Swiss citizen on holiday in Spain can receive the same medical care they would expect at home, at the same cost. Medical treatment through the EHIC is available in any EU country, but only to short-term visitors.
After it was found that many UK citizens residing in Spain were attempting to use their EHIC to access routine health care, the UK Department of Health and the Valencia Health Authority began their campaign. On their website, a clear explanation is provided to inform British expats on how to go about seeking health services - usually, a British resident living in Spain will have to apply for access to care by registering with the Spanish National Institute of Social Security.
Of course, even EU travelers who are abroad and able to use the European Health Insurance Card may have some trouble understanding the process of the card. In March 2013, the BBC published an article suggesting that British travelers are uncertain about the EHIC's validity period, what medical services are covered, and to what extent the card provides general travel insurance. The BBC gave one example of a UK couple who gave birth while on holiday in Spain. Although their EHIC helped the couple access delivery services at a local hospital, they were unaware that the card would not cover the cost of a post-birth ambulatory flight back to England.
For expats, the heath care and insurance regulations in different countries can be confusing as well. In France, for example, a British national can access the French health care system - but only for two years. An article this month published in the UK Telegraph examined the case of one British banker struggling with the cost of pre-retirement health care while residing in France. Due to heart problems, having insurance was of the utmost importance to this banker. After those two years of coverage from the French system, an expat will need to register for an independent health insurance plan.
For expats living in other EU nations that, like France, do not guarantee insurance coverage for non-citizen residents, it essential to find an independent health plan. Expatriates must consider not only their medical needs, but their travel plans as well, and determine if a potential insurance plan includes coverage that can be transferred in the event of a move back home or to another European country.