About Health Insurance
Health Insurance Misconceptions in Vietnam
It should come as no surprise that Tenzing Pacific Insurance advisors hear a wide variety of misconceptions about expat health insurance in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Insurance is a complex topic and people have different past experience and knowledge, or lack thereof.
Even the savviest buyer is unlikely to know their policy inside and out. That being said, here are some common misconceptions regarding expat health insurance in Vietnam and across the Southeast Asia region.
1. “I’m healthy, I don’t need expat health insurance”
Hopefully, you are healthy and will have limited need for your policy. However, many people are affected by unexpected diagnoses, chronic conditions, diseases, and unexpected accidents. The fact of the matter is that you cannot guarantee anything.
Going uninsured is a financially irresponsible position that exposes you and your family to a significant amount of risk in the form of hefty medical bills in the short-term. Moreover, there is the long-term risk of losing the opportunity to get a future provider to cover you for conditions.
» The Best Time to Get Insured is when you’re completely healthy. It’s good to build a history with a provider as it reduces short-term medical bills and long-term financial risk of having coverage denied for pre-existing conditions.
2. “I can buy expat health insurance right before I need treatment”
Simply put, no you cannot! If you need treatment for anything related to a pre-existing condition, insurance companies will not cover you as it is a guaranteed loss for them. Coverage is meant for conditions and treatments that arise after the start date of your policy and that are not related to a pre-existing condition. What is a pre-existing condition? Here’s an example from a popular policy:
“Pre-existing Condition” means any Disability
a) which existed before the Policy Effective Date of Insurance with respect to the Insured Person, and the natural history of such illness can be clinically determined to have started upon processing of this application prior to the Policy Effective Date of coverage, whether or not the Insured Person was aware of such illness or condition
In the policy wordings, you’ll specifically see clauses which exclude pre-existing conditions. Here are some other examples from different providers:
Pre-existing medical conditions or related conditions:
Treatment related to any pre-existing or related conditions which you have had during the five years before your date of entry, unless we have agreed otherwise
Pre-existing Conditions or any related, associated or consequential disabilities, unless disclosed to and accepted in writing by the Insurer
3. “If I’m hurt or sick in a hospital, I can be emergency evacuated back home”
One of the most common misconceptions is related to the inner workings of evacuation and repatriation services. The purpose of evacuation is to get you to the nearest treatment facility in a life-threatening situation when adequate treatment isn’t available locally. The choice of where you get evacuated to is not yours, as shown by this policy language:
Emergency Medical Evacuation
The medically necessary expense of emergency transportation and medical care en route to move an Insured with a Serious Medical Condition insured under the Insurance Policy, to the nearest Hospital where appropriate medical care and facilities are available, as determined by the attending Medical Practitioner or Specialist in conjunction with the Insurer’s medical advisors.
This isn’t always the case; if you were traveling or living in a country near your home country, the provider may decide to evacuate you to your home country. Alternatively, if you are living as an expat in Southeast Asia, you should not expect to be evacuated back to North America, Europe or Australia
Why? It’s ridiculously expensive to fly someone on a specially equipped private flight with on-board doctors. If all insured patients could opt to get medically sent back home, then it would be an astronomical expense to the insurers and emergency assistance providers.
A separate repatriation benefit is usually only eligible following a medical evacuation, but the rules vary by provider. Some may repatriate you to your home country, while others may provide a ticket back to your country of residence. Some providers may only offer repatriation of your remains in the event of death.
4. “I didn’t cause the accident, so I don’t need a license”
Regardless of who caused the accident, if your insurer requires you to have an international or local license of the country you’re living in, then you need one. While it does take some extra effort, it’s not worth the risk of having your insurance denied or worse, leaving your medical bills as the burden of your family or friends.
5. “Inpatient insurance only covers me for overnight treatments in a hospital”
Despite the name, if you took an inpatient-only plan, you may still have some outpatient benefits. They will vary by provider, but here are a few benefits you can expect to have with any provider:
» Day-patient expenses – You may be admitted to a bed as a day-patient but still, go home on the same day; in this case, it’s classified as inpatient expense
» Outpatient surgery – Within some surgery benefits lie outpatient surgery. Many surgeries can now be completed on an outpatient basis. Your inpatient policy will cover these expenses, as long as they are pre-authorised with the provider.
» Pre & Post Hospitalization – Consultations, tests, exams, and medication in the period prior to and following hospitalization are covered under this benefit. Usually, costs incurred 30-days prior to hospitalization and 30-90 days following hospitalization are covered. The post-hospitalization benefit would cover follow-up appointments associated with hospitalization, although you may have to pay them out-of-pocket until you claim them back.
Depending on your provider, you may have some other benefits such as emergency room outpatient, wellness, and physical therapy. Be aware that even with outpatient-only plans, you will be eligible for outpatient benefits.
Read more on inpatient vs outpatient benefits in our blog.
6. “Vietnam health insurance is like the national healthcare system in my home country”
Like many others living in Southeast Asia, you may be from a country with a national healthcare system which covers your medical expenses. This may be your first time paying for or thinking about insurance, much less selecting a suitable option.
Be aware that not everything is covered as it may be at home. You have specific benefits, possible limitations, and policy wordings outlining the rules of your provider and plan. Ask your broker questions and take the time to read through your policy wordings.
In short, Vietnam’s social health system has come a long way but it does not equal that of the United Kingdom or Australia, in terms of quality of care or in benefits provided. Most expats do not and should not rely on it as their sole or primary coverage
7. “I can just buy travel insurance”
Southeast Asian expats often follow the same pattern of exploring the country for a year, thinking they’ll shortly return home. Three years later, they find themselves a citizen of the world with no intentions of returning home. If that resonates with you, then you should have an expat health insurance plan rather than a travel insurance plan.
While travel insurance offers health insurance benefits, its primary purpose is different. Travel insurance is meant to cover unexpected and sudden medical expenses incurred while traveling abroad. It’s meant to get you well enough to go home or continue your travels, but was not designed as a long-term option to provide on-going care and treatments.
If you try to switch to expat health insurance after an accident or developing a condition, it will be much harder to find immediate coverage. Even if you’re protected by a travel insurance plan, you should strongly consider an expat health insurance plan if you’re living and working abroad.
8. “My provider will do direct billing out of my normal country of residence”
Check with your provider! They may be able to do this for an emergency inpatient treatment via a Guarantee of Payment (GOP). In this case, they will guarantee the treating hospital to settle the bill directly for your expenses, provided that the hospital accepts the GOP. Some of the local Vietnamese providers will not offer GOP outside of Vietnam, so take the time to ask your broker or provider.
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These articles are intended to give you enough information to make informed decisions, but health insurance is complicated. Whether you still have questions on this topic or feel ready to take the first steps toward getting a policy, our advisors can help.
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