Home and away

International private medical insurance policies can be the perfect solution for UK-based advisers looking to meet the needs of their high net worth clients. Harvey Jones reports

Many brokers assume that standard private medical insurance (PMI) is for UK nationals and the international version is for expats, and never the twain shall meet.

A good number of medical insurers agree with them, but a handful beg to differ. They argue that international PMI can do a job for UK residents with absolutely no plans to forge a new career in Dubai or Hong Kong.

High net worth individuals look at international PMI and suffer a bad case of policy envy. They see extras such as private GP care, chronic conditions, routine maternity, vaccinations, routine health checks, well-person tests, outpatient drugs and dressings, and optical, dental and hearing benefits, and wonder why they do not get that at home.

The reason is that international products are largely designed for countries with far lower levels of free state provision than the UK, with its beloved (if creaky) NHS, free at the point of use. In the UK, most PMI customers still turn to the NHS for these services, or dip into their own pocket.

Some international insurers believe they can change that. Sarah Jewell, managing director of international insurer A La Carte Healthcare, says it is happy to offer international policies to domestic UK customers, even if they spend the whole year in the UK. But most high net worth people will travel.

“More and more people have second homes overseas or travel abroad regularly, for work or pleasure, and our policy gives them complete continuity of treatment wherever they are,” says Jewell. “If they receive daily physiotherapy in the UK, for example, they can get that overseas. Or if they suffer from cancer, and have, say, Area 1 European cover, they could elect to go to a centre of excellence in Germany or Switzerland.”

Jewell claims this is superior to the option preferred by many brokers – to sell a combination of domestic PMI and travel insurance.

“Travel plans exclude pre-existing conditions. We recently had a client who visited his doctor for chest pains, but the tests revealed nothing, so he concluded that he must be suffering from stress, and took a holiday. Then he had a heart attack. A travel insurer would have rejected his claim but we paid for everything,” says Jewell.

Similarly, A La Carte would reimburse somebody who needed daily physiotherapy for back pain, even while overseas, but a travel plan would not. “Nor would a domestic PMI policy, because that would count as elective treatment overseas,” says Jewell.

Brokers can be reluctant to explore international options for UK clients, possibly because they assume commission is lower. But Jewell claims they can match the domestic product: “We pay 15% initial and 15% renewal, and this is paid on what is often a larger premium.”

Other brokers assume international PMI is a completely different beast, and altogether more complex.

“If you understand PMI, then you will understand international. The only real difference is that international covers more conditions,” says Jewell.

Carl Carter, managing director of IMGEurope, says another obstacle is that many insurers are reluctant to sell international PMI to domestic customers.

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