UK brokers – and insurers – need to tread cautiously when renewing cover for Europeans bound for the US, as Peter Pallot discovers
Here’s a little task for the Queen when President Obama visits in May. She can put him right on the special relationship. The decades-long entente may be a bonanza for him, but we’re paying the bill.
Only recently have US officials actually got round to letting us Brits into their country without a visa. But Uncle Sam still wants to know if we’ve got HIV, plan an act of terrorism or are importing a Cheddar cheese sandwich. In contrast, we beg them to come here, forgive them for wearing golf trousers in Harrods, politely ignore their brash talk and overlook their table manners.
The US, it seems, can instantly extradite any British citizen it wants for overstaying on a parking meter. We have to employ a dozen QCs for a year to extradite an American mass murderer. They lock us up in Guantanamo; we don’t even complain.
To cap it all, Obama’s first act on becoming president was to remove the bust of Churchill from the Oval Office.
When it comes to insurance, it’s the same old story. The self-styled land of the free, pioneer of independent medical care and standard-bearer for private health insurance just doesn’t want to know us. Why are UK-based international medical insurance providers excluded from the US, while Britain is full of American bankers with policies from Cigna, AIG, IMG (US) and American Express?
Of course, UK-based insurers and intermediaries can legally sell plans to US-bound Europeans. But unlike their US-based counterparts, they cannot legally renew after a year. This point is probably missed – or blithely ignored – by some brokers.
But according to Stephen Walker, former chairman of the Association of Medical Insurance Intermediaries, brokers could be exposing themselves to legal redress or having to compensate a policyholder who was unable to renew. Such a case would obviously be particularly awkward if the individual had developed a serious medical condition during his or her first year across the pond, leaving him or her unable to renew with another provider.
Walker has raised the question with the Association of International Medical Insurance Providers (AIMIP). He has written to the association, complaining: “It’s very worrying from a broker perspective as we need to provide our clients with accurate information.”
He expands to Health Insurance: “The trouble is that some front-room staff at insurers have no idea. If we [advisers] are not getting the right information from insurers, how can we advise the client?”
Walker, of Medical Insurance Services in Brighton, continued: “We have always been very wary for that reason – we never recommend a policy if the client is going for more than a year.
“And recommending a plan from a UK or European subsidiary of a US company doesn’t really help because the UK subsidiary is treated as non-US. America is very protective of its markets – whether insurance or anything else.”
Walker is sceptical as to whether brokers, or indeed insurers, really know or care about infringing.
He adds: “Some insurers say it won’t be a problem renewing – I’m not sure about the validity of that.”