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Life savers: Private medical insurance in Hong Kong

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Talking to experts from ALC Health (Hong Kong), Baymac, Bupa Global and ClementsWorldwide, Bruce Marsh gets turned on to the idea of private medical insurance.

Navigating Hong Kong’s healthcare system can be a headache and exhausting. The private sector offers numerous options and luxurious perks but comes at a very high price. The public sector, subsidised by the government, provides healthcare to Hongkongers (including Temporary Hong Kong Residents) at a very low cost. However, the public sector faces a number of growing problems, including overcrowding, long waiting lists and excessive bureaucracy.

With this in mind should we all be looking into private health insurance? And if the answer is yes, can we afford it?

What will it cost you?

As of 2017, Hong Kong again ranked as the second most costly country in the world for private medical insurance, after the US. Surprised? Well not really. As Harry Amende of ALC Health (Hong Kong) explains, “Hong Kong is an expensive place, costs can be expensive, so medical insurance pricing has to take this into consideration.” In addition, the standard of healthcare in Hong Kong is very high, especially at the private facilities. “Higher medical costs come with higher insurance premiums,” notes Jonathan Quach of Bupa Global.

Due to the large expatriate community, who prefer private care due to the personalised service and shorter wait times, the medical care cost per individual has risen, thereby increasing insurance premiums,” adds Daren Bayley-Hay, who at Baymac, specialises in providing customised insurance coverage to people in the aviation industry.

Asked how much we are likely to pay for good coverage, Daniel Edmonds of Clements Worldwide says: “Each policy is based upon the unique requirements of the individual or family, however comprehensive plans can be purchased for as little as US$160/ month for individuals and US$400/ month for families. Group plans are often discounted.”

“When it comes to cost, the key is flexibility and value,” Harry adds. “Valuable inpatient coverage with a high deductible can result in very affordable cover. A family of four could expect to pay between US$10,000 and US$15,000/ year for mid- to high-end cover. The cost is largely driven by a person’s age, the benefits chosen and the area of coverage.”

Jonathan suggests that anyone looking to invest in a scheme focuses on packaged plans that include inpatient/ outpatient services and preventative benefits. “You should also check out the annual policy limits,” he says. “Consider too, geographic coverage (worldwide, including or excluding the US), coverage for other family members (does the package include maternity?), and whether you’d be covered for pre-existing, mental, hereditary, congenital and chronic conditions.”

Why an international medical plan?

For people who travel a lot and, of course, expats, all four experts recommend International Private Medical Insurance (IPMI), which provides comprehensive healthcare cover at home and away. IPMI covers a multitude of areas from medical emergency cover, to doctors’ visits, maternity care and the treatment of ongoing or chronic conditions. It can also cover non-medical costs such as transportation (to receive treatment) or repatriation.

“If you are venturing abroad you can get the care familiar to you in a language you understand,” Jonathan says. “IPMI also offers many benefits in addition to hospital treatment. Services including dental, optical, physiotherapy and chiroprachty can be covered, which allows you to be proactive in managing smaller health issues before they become bigger problems.”

Harry adds, “Your health is your most important asset and should anything catastrophic happen in terms of illness, accident or disease – the right health insurance plan can make a world of difference when it comes to treatment and recovery. And, of course, it gives you peace of mind.”

Daren raises a critical potential issue for those without IPMI.

“Healthcare costs are one of the key contributors to financial ruin. People often spend their entire savings, and sell assets if necessary, to cover costs of medical expenses for their loved ones where there is insufficient healthcare cover when needed.”

The DB demographic

IPMI would certainly seem the way forward for many DBers of my acquaintance. “Pilots and people who travel all over the world need a truly international plan and therefore should look into a portable healthcare plan,” says Daren. “You may also want the option to choose the best possible care globally, which you may be unable to obtain on some local plans. Additionally, you may have family and/ or children overseas who will require the benefits afforded by an international medical plan.

“Medical emergencies do not discriminate against age. Families must be prepared for multiple cover requirements, from child immunisation costs through to aged care,” Daren adds. “You can cover your whole family with an international medical plan, and children under the age of 10 are generally free.”

Stressing the importance of getting insurance when you are young and healthy, Jonathan says, “It is impossible to predict when you will need care, and staying prepared is the best step you can take for yourself and your family. There are also a range of wellness benefits and preventive treatments included in global health plans for those getting cover at a younger age.

“Some plans allow children to be born into policy, which means they are covered right from birth,” Jonathan adds. “You will have the assurance that should your kids have any emergency medical conditions or develop any health issues later in life, they will always have the protection they need.”

Speaking of which, what are the ins and outs of maternity cover? “In the private sector, a standard delivery without complications costs in the region of HK$70,000, rising to over HK$150,000 for an emergency C section,” Harry says. “The best policies can cover the cost of complications during pregnancy even if you choose not to cover routine maternity costs, or if you join the plan in the early stages of pregnancy.”

The fine print

Generally speaking, insurance plans can be tailored to fit specific needs but it’s important to consider the fine print and how the exclusions work.

“Typical exclusions that sometimes people are not familiar with are coverage for accidents or illness as a result of self-inflicted injury, alcohol or substance abuse,” Harry explains. Limits can also vary across insurers, plans and coverage options.

“Most plans do cover outpatient care,” says Daniel. “Standard exclusions are cosmetic surgery, over-the-counter medication and experimental treatments.”

It’s a sad fact that people often have to give up their medical insurance on turning 70, right when they are likely to need it, because the cost of cover increases so drastically. By reading the fine print can we avoid this eventuality?

“Premiums increase with age as it’s a cost reflection of the chance that you’ll have more health problems,” Jonathan says. “Look out for products with level premium after 60 and automatic renewal, or for plans that allow for relatively small increases with increase in age.”

Daren elaborates, “Some group plans do offer continued cover after age 70 with small increases in individual premium based on the overall group premiums, and with no additional medical tests or medical underwriting required. Others will require annual medical checks and may increase the individual premium or exclude certain conditions based on test results.”

People whose companies provide them with medical insurance can also get caught out – they make the mistake of thinking this means they don’t need additional cover. “Companies, like individuals, are concerned with costs and as such often limit the cover provided to employees,” says Daniel. “Unfortunately, employees do not often read the fine print and discover when it is too late that a medical condition is not covered under their company-provided plan.”

Harry agrees saying, “Some insurance providers only offer treatment in Hong Kong or have very low limits for various conditions. A second health insurance could be used as a back-up for serious injury or illness where an existing plan could fall short.”

It’s also important to note that in the majority of cases corporate insurance is yours only for as long as you are employed by the company. “This may leave you with the need to seek individual insurance at an older age or in a time of need, by which time premiums may be higher or there may be exclusions for pre-existing sickness,” Jonathan says. “You can consider choosing a higher deductible or co-insurance when taking out a second insurance to reduce your premiums.”

Last but not least, what’s the reality for people in high-risk jobs, for instance pilots – do they pay more for their coverage? “Careers can influence premiums simply due to the fact that everything we do on a daily basis affects our health in one way or another,” says Daniel. “However, in the case of pilots, even though their career is considered higher risk, they are required to have regular medical tests, which means they are a better risk from a medical insurance perspective.”

My advice? Get yourself some medical insurance – don’t be a flight risk.


• ALC Health (Hong Kong), www.alchealth.com/hongkong.htm
• Baymac, www.baymac.net
• Bupa Global, www.bupaglobal.com
• Clements Worldwide, www.clements.com

Photo courtesy of www.pixabay.com

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