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International Health Insurance: One-on-One with an Expert

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In an increasingly global economy, more and more Americans are living and working overseas, while foreign citizens are coming to live and work in the U.S. But sometimes those people get sick, so they need health insurance to make sure all of their health needs are taken care of. Enter Adam Bates, an agent with Insurance Services of America. We talked to Adam about his company, the main differences between his clients and strictly domestic clients, and asked if he had any advice for agents looking to break into the international market. Here’s what he said.

  1. Tell us about your career.
    I’ve been a health and life insurance agent for 13 years. My father is the president of the company and has been in the health insurance field for over 39 years. I have been selling international health insurance for nearly my entire career. Prior to becoming an insurance agent, I was the Director of Conventions for a resort property in Central Florida.
  2. What made you decide to specialize in international health insurance?
    During the early 90′s, my father worked for a non-profit organization for a couple years that sent staff overseas. My father was asked for his advice regarding insuring the organization’s international staff and he investigated different insurance carriers. Shortly thereafter, he received numerous international health insurance requests from other organizations and individuals who live and/or travel abroad.
  3. How does your role differ from that of someone selling a traditional individual health insurance policy?
    Rather than focusing in the town, county, or state that our office is in, over 90 percent of our business is serving clients residing outside Arizona and the US. As an insurance agent, our role remains the same. We are here to answer questions, educate our clients, and provide solutions to their health insurance needs, but we market ourselves in different geographical areas where traditional health insurance agents do not. Our clientele includes US Citizens traveling and/or living abroad, foreign nationals visiting, residing, or immigrating to the US, foreign expatriates living outside their home country, and local nationals wanting private health insurance. So whereas a traditional health insurance agent might be limited to marketing to a specific region, we market to individuals in and out of the US. The world truly is our marketplace.
  4. What are some of the unique concerns your clients have that clients who live and work solely in the United States might not have?
    Typically, private health insurance gives you the freedom to choose a doctor and receive treatment when you want it. We hear from many clients living in countries where there is a National Healthcare System or socialized medicine that it is insufficient and they complain of longer than desired waiting periods for care and fewer choices in the number of physicians and hospitals you can receive care from. These clients want health insurance so they do not have the limitations of a government-sponsored plan. Traditional U.S. health insurance policies rarely extend beyond the country’s borders. Many of our clients who live in third world countries or areas where you cannot receive adequate medical care also need emergency medical evacuation which provides medical transportation to a hospital with adequate medical facilities. We also insure individuals who travel to high risk locations such as Afghanistan, Iraq, North Africa, etc., who want accident, AD&D, and life insurance.
  5. What is the most common objection you face when meeting with prospects, and how do you overcome it?
    International health insurance is a niche product. Most people who need to obtain coverage usually have questions on how to receive assistance and utilize the benefits when they are overseas. Many of our clients initially assume they are covered by their HMO, PPO, or U.S. insurance policy. If it’s a short-term assignment or if they may be making incidental trips back to the U.S., then clients are concerned how the benefits are paid within the U.S. We usually describe a couple scenarios and provide instructions on what to do. From my experience, our clients receive quicker and more qualified assistance when calling from overseas, because you are speaking to a qualified operator who is trained to assist individuals with medical emergencies in a foreign country.
  6. What is your favorite thing about your job?
    My favorite thing is being able to work with my father. Unlike the traditional neighborhood insurance agency mold of setting up a corner shop and producing business from door-to-door sales, we utilize electronic communication such as social media, email, Skype, Web marketing, and Web sites, along with traditional media like print advertising and direct mail to market and generate sales from markets that have been out of the realm of your local agent. I find it creative and exciting. Traditional individual health insurance is very constrictive; the products are nearly identical and boring to sell. There are endless opportunities when you can market to the world. For example, I was contacted by a client in China whose son is attending boarding school in Missouri, a family living in Italy applied online at our Web site for international health insurance, and a group who sends volunteer teams to Honduras purchased temporary international health insurance for their time abroad.
  7. What advice do you have for other agents who might be considering getting involved in international health insurance?
    Start by thinking outside of the box. It is a small, but easy, learning curve, and as with selling any new insurance product you want to make sure you have excellent support. In finding clients, we initially usually suggest to think globally, but act locally. Many times agents are not aware of the local companies, universities, and non-profit organizations that have employees and staff overseas. After you realize the opportunities, then having a comprehensive Web, email, and print marketing plan will help you attract and contact customers from all around the world.

Adam Bates is an agent with Insurance Services of America. He can be reached at [email protected] or 800-647-4589.