Teresa Rogers: Local support is key to health

Adequate healthcare cover a priority for staff working abroad.

In recent years, we have heard a lot about the UK’s evolving economic climate. It is no surprise that organisations, large and small, are considering new horizons for their manufacturing as well as their markets. So employers need a wider spectrum of benefits to support their employees overseas.

Foreign assignments can be as attractive for staff as they are lucrative for employers. But the levels of support available to an employee (and their family), while on assignment, can have a significant impact on whether the relocation succeeds or fails.

Organisations can find it challenging to deal with different cultures, languages and laws. A particular area of concern for both employers and employees, when looking at relocation, is healthcare provision.

International private medical insurance (IPMI) can give employees reassurance that they have access to medical treatment wherever they are based.

In 2012, Aviva carried out research among UK-based employers and employees about the opportunities and challenges of living and working abroad. The research showed that the challenge lies in helping employers, as well as employees, deal with diverse environments worldwide.

Half the employers we spoke to said they were trying to arrange everything for their staff , but were having trouble getting the benefits package right.

Three-quarters said they offered IPMI as part of their employee benefits package, which makes it the second most widely offered benefit behind housing.

Worryingly, almost half said they had seen staff return home before the assignment was complete.

We believe the availability of healthcare and local support could be instrumental in those employees’ decisions to return home early.

Providers specialising in IPMI should offer information and guidance on a country’s legal requirements. Legislation varies from country to country, so employers need to ensure they know what this is before an employee starts a foreign assignment.

Take the United Arab Emirates (UAE), for example. The UAE is growing in popularity as a destination for both employers and employees, but the country’s legislation, particularly with regard to healthcare, can be a stumbling block for many.

To satisfy visa requirements, staff have to show they have appropriate health cover, but this must be fronted by a local insurer. An adviser could seek a local arrangement on a company’s behalf, but the difficulties of getting to grips with legislation could make that process almost as prohibitive as the circumstances the employer is trying to accommodate.

In 2012, Aviva worked with the Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Insurance Company to create four policies that accommodate the country’s legal requirements, without compromising on benefits, services or levels of care. A partnership like this is reassuring for both employers and employees.

Most employers try to prepare staff for the move in advance by giving them information about the region and putting them in contact with colleagues already living there. Benefits such as an employee assistance programme can be an enormous help.

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To get the most from employee relocation, employers should build a relationship with a provider that can offer flexible support: practical health benefits that will help meet their needs, and complement local health provision.

Teresa Rogers is international business lead at Aviva UK Health