Good health is easily taken for granted, which means that finding the right insurance policy is often pushed to the bottom of the proverbial to-do list. Despite the tedium that is organizing your family’s health insurance, moving to a foreign country is not the time to start considering your options. The choices need to be outlined beforehand so that the coverage is there when you need it.
Expats on a company package typically have the beginnings taken care of. Companies often have one or more insurers that they partner with, and the decision may be as simple as selecting the plan most appropriate for your family. However, many expats are here without comprehensive packages, which places the bulk of the homework on them. So how do you go about getting insured in Beijing, or change from one situation to another?
If you’re already covered, your current insurer is the most logical place to begin exploring other service options. However, keep in mind that as an individual purchaser, you may need to start from scratch. Word-of-mouth recommendations for good local insurance options are also helpful, especially from doctors and clinics within China that you trust.
Chris Hughes of Panoramic Insurance Brokerage, Beijing (PIBB) suggests finding a licensed insurance broker here in China for advice and support when getting set up. While there are likely thousands of advisers and agents in Beijing, true licensed brokers are much more limited (PIBB, Zurich, Continental, and Guan Ai are just a few). These companies are the only insurers allowed to sell China-licensed products to clients actually living in the country. Insurance company Chartis China agrees, saying that while there are many agents in Beijing, the insurer needs to confirm that the agents have been duly authorized and licensed before serving individual clients.
Brokers are also in the best position to offer advice on securing continuation of coverage."All offshore insurance plans through companies like William Russell, IMG and Medicare have no China premium tax added, so the plans you buy online with USD and Euro are slightly cheaper. However, the support network in China for these plans is significantly lower than those offered by licensed insurance products purchased in RMB," says Hughes. If the policy is not offered by the broker in RMB, then it is not a product licensed in China. The only legal way to purchase such a product is online directly, and best done before you arrive in China.
Considering the changing policies and regulations in China, local brokerage consulting might be the safest way to begin your health insurance search. Regardless of what assistance you use, here are some topics to discuss with potential insurers concerning your family’s health needs.
Consider the overall annual limit you want for coverage. High-quality medical care in China is expensive, so you need to be prepared for emergencies (surgeries, hospital stays) whether you actually use them or not. Ranges can be from USD 100,000 to several million. Beijing United Family Hospital (BJU) recommends a USD 1 million policy.
Direct billing can simplify the sometimes overwhelming healthcare process. Many of the international hospitals have large lists of approved direct billing insurance companies (BJU, for example, has 33 providers). If you have international insurance through your company, local hospitals may not process direct billing even if the treatment is covered (be sure to get a fapiao in English for reimbursement in this case). Otherwise, you may pay out of pocket for minor treatments. Insurance purchased through licensed brokers in China are all likely to have direct billing processed through international hospitals as well as local Chinese hospitals.
If you visit the doctor even just a couple of times a year for minor aches and pains, be sure to have your policy include outpatient treatment. You may still pay out of pocket to reach your overall deductible, but not having this coverage will make those visits all the more painful. Often, outpatient care has to be added first before you can consider options such as dental or maternity.
When living overseas, medical evacuation is an essential consideration. Does the insurer that you are considering cover these services? Before brushing that extra option aside, consider the cost of getting home on your own should a health emergency require it. Medevac would cover an evacuation for essential surgery, medical treatments unavailable here, or a regional or national health epidemic.
International travel, whether for business or pleasure, comes hand-in-hand with living in Beijing. Travel insurance is important as a backup on your rider. This is often also available as a small package when you have visitors, either through your insurance plan or through an international hospital or clinic membership.
Pre-existing conditions, including pregnancy, can greatly increase your premiums – and that’s if they are even available for purchase. Be sure to check into the options available should pre-existing conditions be of concern within your family. If there is a condition that has not been treated for a period of time, insurers may consider an added option at a lesser premium.
medical care for kids
While medical care for children is often a given within insurance coverage, don’t assume anything before making your decision. Confirm that checkups are covered, as well as basic immunizations.
There are many other extras you can consider. Are you interested in Traditional Chinese Medicine or natural remedies? Find out if your policy covers that. Do you have children with special needs? Or are you considering adoption while abroad? These questions may not make or break insurance purchase decisions, but it’s best to know the answers to all of your possible questions up front.
In addition to health insurance, international hospitals like BJU or primary care clinics such as International SOS have memberships that offer patients additional discounts and extra services for an annual fee. For example,women who have babies at BJU receive a lifetime membership. Sometimes these memberships serve as a supplement for those company packages that may not cover as many expenses. These also work well for people who select their packages based on low fees upfront, or for people who pay out-of-pocket.
Many local Chinese hospitals, such as Peking Union Medical College, Beijing Friendship Hospital and Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital, have VIP wings with English-speaking doctors. While you may wait longer to see a doctor or not have the privacy that you expect in an international hospital, the quality of medical care is considered top-rate and is far less expensive than international hospitals.
Ultimately, you have to decide what is best for you and your family. Weigh the pros and the cons of the options available, talk to people who have gone through the experience, get professional guidance, and then make your choice. While living in China, health insurance is one investment you can’t afford to bypass.
Panoramic Insurance Brokerage (Beijing)
Rm 701, 7/F, Lido Office Tower, 6 Jiangtai Lu, Chaoyang District (6437 3510) www.pibb.com.cn 朝阳区将台路6号丽都办公楼7楼701室
Chartis Insurance Company China
9A15-16, Hanwei Plaza, Guanghua Lu, Chaoyang District (5969 2888) www.chartisinsurance.com.cn 朝阳区光华路华威大厦9A15-16
Beijing United Family Hospitals and Clinics
2 Jiangtai Lu, Chaoyang District (5927 7000)
Beijing International SOS Clinic
Suite 105, Tower 1, Kunsha Building, 16 Xinyuanli, Chaoyang District (6462 9112) www.internationalsos.com 朝阳区新源里16号琨莎大厦1座105室
Beijing Friendship Hospital
95 Yong’an Lu, Xuanwu District. Mon-Fri 7am-4.30pm, Sat-Sun 7am-11am, 24hr emergency care (6301 4411 ext 3482) www.bfh.com.cn 宣武区永安路95号
Peking Union Medical College Hospital
Mon-Fri 8am-5pm. 1 Shuaifuyuan, Wangfujing (the foreigners’ wing is located behind and to the left of the main hospital entrance), Dongcheng District (6529 5284, 6529 5269, 24hr) www.pumch.ac.cn 东城区王府井帅府园1号(接待外国人的区域在主楼的左后方)
Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital
Mon-Fri 8am-noon, 1.30-5pm, Sat 8-11.30am. 24hr emergency care. Yinghua Dongjie, Heping Jie Beikou, Hepingli, Chaoyang District (6422 2952, 8420 5122, both numbers are valid for International Dept.)