Benefits and compensation are the top concerns of employees contemplating assignments in foreign countries, according to a recent worldwide survey.
As explained by Virginia Hollis, vice president of CIGNA International Expatriate Benefits, Wilmington, Del., employees need to believe that their health needs will be satisfied and that they will be able to live the same lifestyle abroad.
CEIB, a unit of CIGNA Corp., offers health, life, disability and business travel benefits to employers with expatriated workers. It also co-sponsored the survey, released in March, that assessed employer/employee perspectives on expatriate assignment issues.
Hollis indicated that, in terms of benefits, companies transferring employees abroad have three options: continue coverage under the “home country” plan, provide coverage under the “host country” planwhich may have to be supplemented with private individual coverageor offer a separate global plan designed specifically for expatriates.
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She said that a home health plan is beneficial if an expatriate is leaving a spouse or other dependent behind in the home country or if the expatriate will be returning to the home country. In those instances, coverage would continue under the plan that the employer already has in place, she stated.
Hollis noted that the home country plan can be the least expensive option if the employer has a large “domestic population” into which the expatriate can be rolled for coverage purposes.
But as an example of the downside, she pointed out that U.S.-based CIGNA could not insure its local workers in Brazil and instead would have to cover them through a Brazilian insurer.
Under a host country plan, an expatriate is covered under the national health scheme of the country of relocation. Thus, a U.S. employee sent to Britain on a worker’s visa would be covered under the British national health plan, Hollis stated.
She added that a host country plan can be a low-cost option for an employer because national health schemes are funded by taxes.
Unfortunately, however, national health schemes generally have long waiting lists for services, including elective surgery and vision and dental care, Hollis said. She explained that up to 25 percent of the local U.K. population purchases a supplemental plan that allows them to “jump the queue” and not have to wait for service.
Under the global plan, expatriates are considered a unique group with unique needs because they are on the move, Hollis indicated.
In fact, the CIEB-sponsored survey found many of the responding employees to be on their second foreign assignment.
Hollis explained that the global plan provides a range of services, including a multilingual staff and accessibility 24 hours a day, every day. Expatriates who call CIEB speak to a live person trained to answer questions about coverage, filing claims and payments, she said.