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How to Choose the Right Health Insurance for China

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If your clients are traveling abroad in China, they no doubt will have a number of different things on their minds.

Are their travel arrangements set? Did they double check their accommodation confirmations?

Did they leave their stoves on?

With all of these things on the clients’ minds, there could be one critical item that your clients overlook: their health

(Related: What International Health Insurance Really Costs)

While clients often avoid imagining worst case scenarios, it is always a good idea for them to make sure they have access to the best available health care when they travel. This is where health insurance comes in.

There are certain things that can be said for all types of medical insurance coverage that can be obtained in China. For one, all of them will provide coverage for treatment in public or private health care facilities in a medical emergency. However, there are also many different benefits and features between available plans. My firm has extensive experience in this area. Here’s what we’ve learned about what types of coverage suit various types of travelers’ needs.

Short Term and Travel

Short term insurance plans will likely be very familiar to people who has travel experience. This is because the most common form of short term insurance is travel insurance. Just to be clear, while all travel insurance plans are considered short term insurance, not all short term insurance plans are travel insurance plans.

The difference here is that travel insurance plans generally cover a specific date range. Before the clients leave for their trips, they secure coverage. They must inform the insurance provider of exactly the dates of their trips, as well as their intended destinations. The travel plan then provides medical insurance coverage outside of the travelers’ home countries for exactly those dates. Short-term insurance plans, on the other hand, can last for up to 12 months, and at the end of that period can actually be transitioned into a full annual insurance plan.

As far as actual benefits, the maximum benefits allowed by short term insurance plans are actually quite high. In fact, many come with an unlimited coverage limit per person per trip. Furthermore, these plans generally cover 100% of the costs of hospitalization and treatment, while longer term insurance plans may have the insured pay a percentage of costs.

With travel insurance plans specifically, there are both advantages and drawbacks. The main advantage of a travel plan versus a purely medical insurance plan is that benefits are included for travel issues. For instance, if the travelers’ flights are canceled or delayed, or their luggage is lost, a travel insurance plan will provide benefits. The main drawback of travel insurance, on the other hand, is that it often only provides medical treatment on an emergency basis. This means that the clients will not be able to make an appointment with a specialist while traveling and have it covered by the plan. It is also good to keep in mind that the main goal of a travel plan is to get the travelers’ home in good health. In the case that the travelers are seriously injured abroad, the plans will get them well enough to get home, but any additional treatment received once they are no longer abroad will likely not be covered.

Generally, short-term/travel insurance plans are ideal for those traveling for a few days, weeks or even months, but if clients are planning on actually living in a foreign country for a significant amount of times, the options below may better suit your clients.

Long-Term, but Staying Put

While in China, your clients may find that they are content to explore the Middle Kingdom and enjoy its varying cultures and natural beauty, rather than use China as a hub to travel around the greater Asia-Pacific region. If this sounds like your clients, perhaps going with a local insurance plan is their best option.

These plans will provide your clients with coverage for in-patient care in just about any city in China, but there may be restrictions placed on which hospitals the client’s plan will provide coverage for treatment in. Additionally, local insurance plans often feature deductibles and co-pays, which are portions of medical costs that must be paid by the insured, rather than the insurance company. These are a method of lowering monthly or annual insurance premiums.

Airplane (Photo: Thinkstock)

(Photo: Thinkstock)

On the plus side, local plans allow the option of purchasing additional coverage for non-emergency situations, including out-patient, maternity, dental, and vision insurances, and more. Insurers also often have arrangements made with many hospitals that allow the insurer to directly settle your payment, making paying for treatment much easier.

Long-Term, but a Jetsetter

The premiere option when it comes to health insurance in China, or pretty much anywhere else in the world, is international health insurance. This product possesses all the coverage available with local insurance, but it adds quite a bit more. Truly, international health insurance is ideal for those that follow their wanderlust all around the globe in their free time, or are constantly jetting off for international business ventures. If international health insurance fits into your clients’ budget, there really is no better choice as far as ensuring access to quality healthcare.

Yes, due to the extraordinary reach that international health insurance provides, the premiums are high, and the coverage may also feature the deductibles and co-payments found with local insurance. However, beyond these items, there aren’t many drawbacks to speak of.

International health insurance can allow your client to receive medical care in virtually any country around the world. Even more, in any country (including China) your client can choose the doctor and hospital that your clients feels will provide the best care, as there is never a restrictive care provider network. The global nature of the insurance lets clients take their coverage with them any time they move. Local plans, on the other hand, will not, as they only provide coverage inside of China.

Different Places, Different Plans

China is a very large and spread out nation. Due to this, we can’t simply just refer to the ‘Chinese health care system’. This is because, in actuality, there are a number of different healthcare systems at work. How health care operates in one province can vary greatly from another — and differences can even be sheen from city to city -as the national government is always trying out new programs and schemes in various territories. Likewise, the demographics of one area may dictate a different form of medical care delivery than another.

The main divider between the available qualities of health care one can receive in a given locality in China is whether it is urban or rural. There are many major metropolitan areas in China, and each is serviced by an array of medical facilities. From high end international hospitals to VIP clinics to public hospitals, people in China’s cities can opt for very costly, yet very high quality health care, or very low cost, but effective health care that may come with long wait times and spottier bedside manner.

Unfortunately for those living in the countryside, rural hospitals are often ill-equipped to address all of an expat’s needs. The chief concern here is that those unable to speak Mandarin will likely have communication issues with hospital staff. As well, the medical technology at rural hospitals is likely to be behind that which can be found in their urban counterparts. This is why it can be an extra benefit to obtain health insurance with a medical evacuation benefit, so that you can be quickly transported to a better hospital in the event that the one you seek treatment in is ill-equipped to address your need adequately.

U.S. agents or brokers who have little experience with the health care system in China, and clients who want to sign up for local plans in China, should work with a firm like mine to help clients find the options that best meet their needs.

—-Read Japan Hospitals Look for More People to Cure, Not Just Their Own on ThinkAdvisor.

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