Bupa’s Kenton: ‘Keeping up with the evolving int’l private medical insurance market’

Working abroad is increasingly becoming the norm for many employees, and as a result, the health and well-being needs of companies are evolving, according to Sheldon Kenton, managing director of Bupa Global, the international insurance arm of the UK-based, privately-held Bupa health insurer and healthcare provider.

Here, Kenton, pictured above, considers some of the ways international private medical insurers are having to change to accommodate the ever-changing international scene. 

As globalisation continues – if at a more subdued pace than a decade or so ago – globally-active businesses are increasingly appreciating the real benefit they can derive from simply providing their overseas employees with high standards of healthcare, wherever they happen to be in the world.

For many such companies, a single provider that’s able to deliver both domestic and international health insurance policies under a single, universal package is the obvious answer.

But  even for those multi-national businesses that opt for a single iPMI provider, a perennial challenge is that insurance legislation differs from country to country, sometimes quite significantly; and that it is constantly evolving.

With this in mind, in this article, I intend to look at this ever-evolving iPMI market, as well as some of the more common compliance issues these multi-national, cross-border businesses need to consider when they are considering how they might best, and most cost-effectively, look after the healthcare needs of their overseas employees.

Compliance challenges and changes in the markets

One consistent theme of the ever-changing international health insurance legislation landscape is that governments tend to make decisions affecting this marketplace with the needs of their local population, and often, local insurance players, in mind. As a result, the impact on the insurance needs of the travelling or short-stay business professional is seldom considered.

But as more employees travel internationally for longer assignments, and on an increasingly regular basis, there is a clear and urgent demand for healthcare provision to be prioritised in such places.

For example, in Dubai and the surrounding area, new legislation has made it a requirement for all private businesses to provide health insurance to their employees. As this publication and others have been pointing out, this is part of a major trend, particularly in the Gulf, towards “compulsory” health insurance, and it’s expected to continue.

Alongside this, the Gulf region is also expecting a rise in healthcare costs, due to a number of factors such as population growth, an increasingly ageing population, and a rise in the incidence of lifestyle diseases.

While it’s most obvious in the Gulf at the moment, these factors are affecting healthcare costs in many countries around the world.

There is also much political uncertainty in many markets, including across Europe and Latin America, which obliges multi-national insurance and healthcare businesses active in these areas to stay abreast of developments that could result in major legislative changes,which in turn may impact their and their clients’ workforces and businesses generally.

The business case for iPMI

All multinational businesses, whether they have a large or small number of globally- mobile employees, face the same legislative health insurance challenges when sending employees abroad – but the ways in which they respond can differ.

Meanwhile, there is now a greater expectation among employees that their employer will play an active role in their health and well-being.

The way this usually plays out in larger companies is that decisions about employee health and well-being may be made with the majority in mind. The fact that different countries have varying standards of local healthcare,  though, can pose a problem for such employers, as they are typically expected to provide their workforce with standardised care wherever they happen to be located around the world.

Employees increasingly expect international private medical insurance that offers them the peace of mind that they’ll be treated quickly, by high-quality medical professionals who speak their  own language, without the need to go back to their native country to receive care.

They also increasingly expect a wide range of additional, richer benefits that can help people to manage any long-term needs and generally improve their health and well-being on location.

This trend is driving companies like Bupa to place an ever-greater emphasis on developing a strong global network of medical facilities, in addition to providing insurance. Bupa Global customers, for example, today have access to Bupa’s global network of 1.2 million medical providers.

As for the costs involved, there’s no doubt that healthcare costs are rising. For this reason, many businesses that find themselves obliged to provide insurance to all their overseas employees often seek to opt for the more basic packages, in order to keep costs down. The problem here is that they need to ensure that these basic policies are sufficient to meet the regulatory requirements and/or the healthcare realities of the various countries in which they have employees posted, or have employees travelling to regularly.

That employees view health insurance as an attractive benefit, and an incentive to join a company rather than one that doesn’t offer it, is undeniable, as is its role in retaining existing employees.

For this reason we advise businesses to bear this in mind, and to ensure that their health insurance offering is sufficient to meet their employees’ needs, while at the same time being clear with them as to the precise level of cover they can expect to receive – especially those who travel frequently on behalf of the company, or who are posted abroad.

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Bupa Global is the international health insurance arm of the UK-based, privately-held Bupa group, one of the world’s largest providers of health insurance and healthcare. It has offices around the world including, in addition to London and Brighton in the UK, Miami, Copenhagen, Dubai (in partnership with Oman Insurance Company), and Hong Kong, as well as regional offices in Mainland China, Singapore, Egypt, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Brazil, Panama, Guatemala and Ecuador. Bupa Global recently acquired Care Plus, a major Brazilian health insurer, which looks after more than 400 corporate clients with a total of around 100,000 members.

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