IPMI providers are still covering coronavirus, but treatment will vary worldwide, writes Adam Saville.
While most domestic private health insurers (PMI) in the UK are offering limited or no cover for coronavirus, international private medical insurers (IPMI) are currently not excluding the virus from their policies. However, according to Engage Health Group, the stance being taken can vary between insurers and treatment often depends on local healthcare systems, many of which are likely to be under immense pressure during the outbreak.
Terms & conditions
Some IPMI providers include blanket exclusions for pandemics and epidemics, which is understandable considering the lack of facilities likely to be available, however those who do, at this stage at least, are choosing not to apply them (at their own discretion).
The table below shows the current stance of 15 IPMI providers.
Currently all IPMI providers are covering treatment for coronavirus COVID-19, said Engage Health Group, however treatment is very likely to be in a state facility - and, for example, in the UK would be covered by the government.
Some countries might look to bill the cost back to the insurer, so this may impact a policyholder with a deductible/excess on their plan, or if they are part of an experience rated scheme.
IPMI should would the need to see a doctor, outpatient treatment or prescription drugs providing these benefits are included in the policy.
Engage Health Group said there are a couple of other benefits, which most IPMI plans now offer that may also be useful in this current outbreak.
- Virtual GP or telemedicine services are a key tool in allowing people to get medical advice without going to see a doctor. Most IPMI plans now offer this service as a core part of their offering
- International Employee Assistance Programmes (iEAPs) are also a standard offering on many business health plans and may also provide a useful service in this outbreak. With many employees facing a stressful and uncertain period; job pressure, isolation, financial worries and potentially dealing with family bereavements, having independent, expert advice and counselling on hand could be crucial in helping to steer and support people through a very challenging few months ahead.
All IPMI providers have previously advised that testing would be available via the standard outpatient diagnostic benefit, if it is included plan.
However, on Friday 20 March, Bupa Global advised the UK government is trying to channel all its testing through the NHS and is restricting private testing and so they will no longer pay for "any private screening/diagnostic testing, home testing kits in the UK, this includes any screening/testing undertaken in a private full health screening."
Engage Health Group said this only applies to members resident in the UK and other international insurer have not yet followed suit, so advised that policyholders check with their own insurer if they develop symptoms and wish to be tested.
To claim private coronavirus testing on plans, most IPMI providers require some or all of the following criteria to be met for a private test claim to be accepted:
- To have developed symptoms including a high fever, cough and /or shortness of breath
- If you have been in contact with someone who is infected
- Some insurers require a referral from your GP or medical practitioner
- Please also note that some insurers are placing a cap on the cost of a Coronavirus COVID -19 test. Bupa Global for example has placed a cap of £100 on Coronavirus COVID-19 testing.
Engage Health Group recommends that policyholders check with their specific insurer or intermediary for the requirements around testing that apply to their plan.
Evacuation and repatriation
If state facilities are at capacity, will policyholders requiring emergency medical care be transported to country which have the facilities to provide treatment?
Yes, if medical evacuation benefit is included on the policy. A few insurers would allow repatriation home as standard for expats if it's medically safe.
However, in reality this could be tricky and could vary country to country. Engage Health Group said these are the main reasons:
- Border closures and travel restrictions:
This may stop a member leaving their city or country and other countries will not let them enter. A number of usual evacuation hubs have closed their boarders to people from heavily impacted countries for example South Africa is the main evacuation hub for Africa but now has boarder restrictions in place. Some countries are also allowing travel if a person can prove they are COVID-19 negative.
- Reduced resources available:
As an increasing number of countries find their medical systems swamped with Covid-19 patients, finding available facilities will be significant challenge, especially as a number of countries have also restricted beds to citizens.
- Transportation requirements:
Medical transportation of a person with an infectious disease is complex, expensive and there is a limited availability of the required equipment and expertise. Some of the areas of consideration in addition to the above two points are;
- Clearance by governments to allow the flight over their airspace, especially if a stop for refuelling is required.
- The medical staff running the transportation all need to be specifically trained in infectious disease management
- There is a limited availability of air ambulances who have the required equipment (such as a bio containment unit) and a limited amount of expertise in using these specialist facilities.
Engage Health Group said insurers will assess and review requests on a case-by-case basis and will need to talk to ambulance partners to work through logistics and paperwork regarding potential evacuation more so than usual.
The intermediary recommends that policyholders contact their IPMI provider if they develop symptoms which are serious to discuss the situation.
Engage Health Group advised that once travel restrictions around the world are eased and people are allowed to travel again, it may be the case that there is still no vaccine available and this COVID-19 is still spreading. In this scenario policy coverage would be available via any IPMI covering coronavirus, for treatment in the country you contract the virus.
It said to note that some insures do limit cover for those travelling against FCO (British Foreign and Commonwealth Office) or CDC (US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) advice.
This article was first published by COVER