A trip to the doctor isn’t cheap, especially to an international hospital. Healthcare costs can be a nightmare to settle if you’re uninsured. In most expat remuneration packages, medical insurance is an attractive benefit. Students are usually covered through their institutions of higher learning, while younger students are included in their parents’ insurance.
However, as the profile of Beijing’s international community changes, with fewer traditional expats posted here by big companies, and more entrepreneurs paying expenses out of their own pockets, increasing numbers have no insurance at all. They gamble that they will stay healthy, or that they can pay for treatment if it’s needed. But it’s a risky gamble, particularly for families with children, and if you have a medical emergency, you don’t need a financial emergency at the same time.
Understanding Medical Insurance
Your employer may have an insurance scheme which you can join, or you may need to arrange your own. There are three essential questions to consider:
1. What do I need? This includes an assessment of your current health status and family health history.
2. What do I want? Dental, optical and maternity care are often separate from the main package.
3. What can I afford? This may be the most important consideration, as premium packages offering a full range of care at the best hospitals can run into thousands of dollars.
Hospitals require a Guarantee of Payment (GOP) from incoming patients and sometimes the insurance company needs to be notified to ensure that the insured gets the medical coverage they require, and the hospital knows that the bill will be settled. Brokers can act as an intermediary between the insurance company and insured.
Evaluating Brokers and Insurance Companies
If you need to find your own insurance, a broker can help. Brokers are usually compensated through commissions taken from the premiums charged to policyholders (i.e. you) by the insurance company, so their services are free for clients. Be sure to seek out an advisor who specializes in medical insurance for expats living in China.
Though both brokers and agents act as a bridge between the client and the insurer, an agent usually represents an insurance company like Cigna, Aon, Allianz, Bupa, IMS, or Aetna. Both agents and brokers must be legally licensed to work in China.
If you currently have medical insurance but are looking to change plans, your current insurer would be the most logical place to start. However, the insurance company may not extend coverage to China, or may limit the list of hospitals you can go to. If you’re set on going to a particular facility, check the hospital’s or clinic’s website for a list of insurers they currently have direct billing relationships with.
This article appeared on p32-33 of the beijingkids July 2018 Home & Relocation Guide issue