Rehabilitation services in demand for international healthcare

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• Because standards of local healthcare services vary overseas, rehabilitation benefits for expatriates tend to be through international healthcare insurance rather than local private medical insurance.

• International health insurance cover is available at various levels, but it is important to check the cost of medical treatment in the destination country and whether rehabilitation treatments are available via the state provider.

• In countries where healthcare provision is less reliable or unavailable, ensure that basic expat medical insurance policies include adequate cover for rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation services are an increasingly important component of international healthcare insurance for expatriate employees, says Alison Coleman

Following sickness or injury, rehabilitation benefits are crucial to help staff recover properly and return to work as soon as possible. For expatriate employees, who may work in remote locations where standards of healthcare vary, providing health insurance that includes rehabilitation services is a priority.

Steve Desborough, senior consultant at Towers Watson, says: “Expat healthcare benefits are typically more robust than those of private healthcare policies in the UK, and because of the varying levels of state healthcare provided by some countries, some of these benefits are typically offered as a core part of expat healthcare policies.

“Things like post-accident physiotherapy, psychiatric rehabilitation and aftercare post chemotherapy can be covered as standard under some of the more robust benefits. However, some policies do not cover rehabilitation for drug and alcohol addiction.”

In terms of specific rehab services, what is included in the cover depends on the insurer and the international medical insurance plan, says Patrick Woodhead, specialist consultant at Lorica Employee Benefits.

Specialist rehab

“Some insurers will exclude them completely,” he says, “some offer a small monetary amount, while others will offer a per-condition time limit. However, most of the patient’s recovery is included in the inpatient benefit provision, so often this negates the requirement for specialist rehab.”

Nevertheless, many employers and benefits providers consider rehabilitation benefits to be an essential part of comprehensive international medical insurance.

In a basic policy, cover is provided on the recommendation of the consultant or specialist, generally for a specified number of days, following acute treatment as an inpatient at a hospital.

Beverly Cook, managing director of international health insurance provider Expacare, says: “The type of service offered is varied and could be multi-discipline depending on patients’ requirements. However, for larger schemes with 30 or more members, where the organisation has the option of bespoke benefits to match its needs, we have seen that in most cases, cover for this particular benefit has traditionally not been excluded from its requirements.”

Therapy benefits

Bupa International’s plans include full cover for rehabilitation for up to 30 days in each membership year, covering services such as speech, physical and occupational therapies. These also include outpatient therapy benefits such as physiotherapy, with the number of visits dependent on the level of cover purchased. Ultimately, the expat cover chosen will depend on the country of residence, the cost of medical treatments, and available access to state healthcare systems.

Treatment costs are higher in countries such as the US and Singapore, but lower in some parts of Europe, while some countries in the Middle East have mandated healthcare benefits with no limits on rehabilitation.

In less developed countries, standards of healthcare can also vary considerably. Here, employers must ensure rehabilitation benefits are available at the required level, says Alison Massey, marketing and ecommerce director at health insurance provider Now Health. “They need to be clear about what they want to cover expatriate staff for. If they are looking at an inpatient-only plan, they must make sure it is a good one.”

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