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What is UK International Private Medical Insurance?

In the simplest terms, it’s a form of health insurance which allows individuals or families access to private medical support in pre-selected global locations. Other names for the policy include International Medical Insurance, International Private Medical Insurance (IPMI), or Worldwide Health Insurance. 

It’s worth noting that businesses can provide international health coverage to their employees. If this is you, see our guidance here: International Health Insurance for Businesses.

The UK clients we work with who require International Health Insurance fall into numerous different categories, for example:

  • Expatriates and their families, who split their year in different countries for leisure or work assignments
  • Expats moving to a new country who require health insurance for their visa applications
  • High net worth individuals who are still resident in their country of nationality but want the very best level of private health insurance available
  • Students studying overseas

International Health Insurance UK products for individuals and families come in two main forms: ‘modular’ and ‘tiered’. In a modular plan, you select the areas of cover you want (like outpatient, or wellness benefits), while in a tiered plan you can choose between a range of three or four standard plans which increase in cover level, often still with some optional add-ons or flexibility within them.

What extra benefits are offered on an International Health Insurance plan?

International Health Insurance products accessible in the UK offer broader cover than you would see on local, single country plans.

In addition to the core ‘In/Day’ and ‘Outpatient’ benefits you would see on a private domestic plan, it can also cover benefits such as:

  • Private GP and doctors’ visits
  • Private Maternity
  • Medical evacuation
  • Independent second medical opinion services
  • Chronic conditions are generally covered as standard for routine maintenance of the condition
  • Prescription drugs charges and consultations
  • Accident & Emergency admissions
  • Hereditary and Congenital conditions
  • Wellness benefits and health screening
  • Optional eyecare benefits
  • Optional dental benefits
  • Virtual doctor/telemedicine

To reiterate the obvious, an international plan is not restricted to your country of residence, but can be expanded to whichever country you wish to have cover within.

Can I be treated anywhere in the world with an International Health Insurance plan?

Almost all International Health Insurance UK plans offer at least two regions of cover:

  • General worldwide cover excluding the USA
  • General worldwide cover including the USA

The US is singled out due to the high cost of medical treatment there. When the US is added onto a policy, it’s likely to significantly raise the premium (cost of buying the insurance). In some cases, it can even double the premium depending on your main residency country and level of cover.

However, there are also opportunities to be more specific about the countries included in the policy. Some international health insurers offer regional coverage based on the area you’re travelling in, or for two specific countries.

How much does an International Health Insurance plan cost?

Price is obviously an important consideration when looking at an International Medical Insurance policy.

You should be aware that all International Health Insurance plans are going to be more expensive than buying a localised plan for a single country. This is due to a variety of factors including the level of benefits being provided, the fact that you can choose to access any medical facility you wish within your area of cover, and, finally, the increased overheads for international providers running a global operating structure.

While the pricing is more expensive, you do get good value for that extra spend with the depth and strength of the product being bought. Like all health insurance plans, you should also budget for the cost of the plan to rise each year, generally between 8% and 15% due to a mixture of medical inflation, age increases and the cost of treatment in your residency country.

Pricing of a plan varies greatly depending on your age, the country you live in, the product benefits you choose and your region of cover. To give a feel of the pricing range, some examples are included below:

Cost of International Health Insurance examples

Example 1: A couple ages 35 & 38, resident in India, purchasing a mid-tier International Health Insurance plan, including dental and vision with no excess or deductible.

Indicative premium: Worldwide excl. USA

£3,795 – £8,454

Indicative premium: Worldwide incl. USA

£5,502 – £18,696

Example 2: A family aged 40, 42, 10 and 6, resident in the UK, purchasing a mid-tier International Health Insurance plan, with no dental and vision and no excess or deductible

Indicative premium: Worldwide excl. USA

£8,664 – £13,939

Indicative premium: Worldwide incl. USA

£12,563 – £26,484

Example 3: A couple aged 28 & 31, resident in France, purchasing an entry level International Health Insurance plan, with some outpatient cover, no dental or vision and no excess/deductible.

Indicative premium: Worldwide excl. USA

£3,218.92 – £4,084

Indicative premium: Worldwide incl. USA

£4,097 – £8,474

What underwriting is applied to International Health Insurance UK policies?

Underwriting for Individuals and families purchasing International Health Insurance in the UK is generally one of three ways.

► The most common is Full Medical Underwriting (FMU). This is where you complete a health declaration of around 15 questions. Any pre-existing conditions will be excluded from cover as standard.

No medical will be required although an insurer may request a GP report to understand more about a condition. This would be provided at your expense.

A few insurers do also offer the option to pay a ‘loading’ (extra amount) on the premium to cover your pre-existing conditions. It may be worth considering depending on the condition and loading applied.

► Some International Health Insurance providers also offer Moratorium Underwriting (Mori). This essentially means that for the first two years of the plan you are not covered for any conditions you have suffered from, treated, or sought advice on, in the five years prior. However, it will be covered after that point, so long as you have not had any treatment or symptoms in those two years.

If you do have treatment or symptoms during those two years, then the two year period starts again from that point. Some insurers offer variations on this, so it is worth confirming exactly what the requirements are with your insurer if you want to consider this route. An experienced health insurance broker like Engage Health Group will help advise on such issues.

► The last option is Continued Personal Medical Exclusions or CPME. This is only available to clients switching their cover from one International Health Insurance provider to another, and when they have been underwritten previously (i.e., had a medical history check). The new insurer would offer to maintain the underwriting conditions they are currently on so they would be switching based on a ‘No Worse Terms’ basis.

Some insurers do load their premium for a CPME switch as it is potentially slightly more risky for them, so keep an eye on premiums. This is another issue we will advise on.

Do I have any hospital restrictions on my International Private Medical Insurance policy?

With all UK International Health Insurance plans, you have access to all medically recognised hospitals and clinics in your region of cover. (Though you can choose to restrict this level of choice in return for a reduction on your premium.)

This means unrestricted access to hospitals or specialists: you are free to go to whichever facility you wish too. Most International Health Insurance UK providers do, however, offer a network of hospitals in which they can guarantee ‘direct settlement’ of In-Patient, Day Patient and, in some cases, Out-Patient treatment. This means that bills you incur for treatment are sent directly to the insurer for settlement meaning you are not having to pay for the initial cost and later claiming it back from the insurer.

In a lot of cases this happens for Inpatient treatment. Sometimes even out of network if you pre-authorise with your International Health Insurance provider as once approved they will provide the medical facility with a guarantee of payment (GOP), but knowing upfront that you have a network whether is guaranteed and your International Health Insurance provider is recognised is helpful.

Will my International Health Insurance UK policy fly me back home for treatment?

One of the headline benefits for International Health Insurance plans is the ability to be evacuated or repatriated from where the injury or illness has occurred, should you need to be. In extreme situations this can be the difference between life and death. For those travel extensively it’s a particularly valuable benefit.

It’s important to understand the terms of this benefit, however, as it doesn’t mean that you will be transported somewhere just because you would rather be treated in that place/hospital.

Evacuation/repatriation cover will only apply if you are unable to receive ‘suitable and adequate’ treatment where you are. In most developed countries this benefit wouldn’t come into play – although you are, of course, free to pay for your own travel and be treated where you like within your region of cover.

This benefit comes into its own if you are travelling, or resident, in South-East Asia, Africa and some parts of South America. In these locations, healthcare facilities can be inadequate for more serious conditions, and you might end up needing a medical evacuation which can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.

While some insurers don’t mandate the pre-authorisation of some of their benefits, if you are going in for any ‘In’ or ‘Day Patient’ treatment, they would always recommend pre-authorising and we would agree with that advice.

Pre-authorising does make the process a little smoother if you are planning to receive treatment on your International Health Insurance UK plan. The insurer can work with the hospital, in many cases to agree cover and payment of the bill between themselves, meaning that you don’t have to pay out a large sum and claim it back. It also provides peace of mind that you know you are covered before being admitted for your procedure.

Do I need to pre-authorise any treatment upfront on my International Private Medical Insurance plan?

Almost all insurers require pre-authorisation on at least some of the benefits on your International Health Insurance policy. At the very least this tends to be for medical transportation (evacuation/repatriation) and more complex In-patient treatment. Quite a few insurers also have a blanket requirement for pre-authorisation for any In and Day Patient treatment across their range of International Health Insurance plans.

It’s worth remembering a couple of keys points:

  • If your insurer does require pre-authorisation for a benefit and you have treatment without obtaining it then you risking not being covered.
  • You don’t need to pre-authorise treatment for any Out-Patient benefits, apart from advanced screening (MRI, CT, PET scans) in the case of some insurers.

If I have a baby on my International Health Insurance plan, will they be covered too?

Most Worldwide Health Insurance policies have a ‘newborn baby’ benefit which provides some cover on the mother’s policy for treatment of a newborn baby within the first 30 days after birth.

These often have a monetary limit, but any congenital conditions are covered (medical conditions someone is born with). In most cases, insurers require a newborn baby to be added to the family plan in their own right, within 30 days. This gives them their own International Health Insurance policy if treatment is to continue after 30 days.

Any treatment received will then switch to their own policy which will provide more cover, although congenital conditions are often still capped on most UK International Health Insurance policies.

A newborn can be placed onto their own plan within 30 days even if they haven’t required treatment. This is worthwhile as it requires no underwriting.

What currency can you pay with for an International Health Insurance UK plan?

Plans are usually available in GBP, USD and EUR with the benefit currency limits reflecting the payment currency.

You can also generally choose to pay your International Health Insurance policy either monthly, quarterly, or annually. Note: some insurers offer a discount for annual payment.

Can I cancel my International Health Insurance policy during the year?

All International Medical Insurance UK plans are offered on an annually renewable 12-month contract. If you want to cancel your plan mid-year you will be allowed to, but you may be charged the remainder of the year’s premium to do this. Insurers vary quite widely on this. Some will let you cancel without further charge while others will even refund you a pro rata premium. We would advise checking with your International Health Insurance provider or intermediary before you cancelling.

Can I access my International Health Insurance plan online?

Yes, most International Health Insurance UK plans have secure online portals for you to access your policy information. Some insurers are more advanced than others, but services can include:

  • Submitting and tracking claims online in real-time
  • View your remaining benefit allowance
  • Web chat with customer services
  • View hospital network information.

Not all International Health Insurance providers offer mobile apps with the same capability of their web portals, but the number and capability is growing.

Which insurers offer International Private Medical Insurance in the UK?

There is a large market for International Health Insurance with over 16 recognised UK insurers offering products for Individuals and families. See the list below:

  • Aetna International
  • ALC Health
  • Allianz Worldwide Care
  • April International
  • AXA Global Health
  • Bupa Global
  • Cigna Global
  • Expacare
  • Freedom Worldwide
  • Global Benefits Group
  • Healthcare International
  • IMG Europe
  • Integra Global
  • Morgan Price International
  • Now Health International
  • William Russell

Each insurer has a range of policy options with varying inclusions/exclusions and services attached. Different global regions will also come with separate tailored services. Consequently, there are hundreds of products available offering differing levels of cover, administered by insurers possessing varying strengths and weaknesses in different regions.

It is therefore important to work with a specialist International Health Insurance UK intermediary who can find you the best solution for your needs at the best price, and who can undertake an annual review each renewal.

If you would like to discuss your specific requirements for an International Health Insurance policy then we would be happy to help.

International Health Insurance UK
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