Look abroad for new opportunities

Group PMI opportunities beckon overseas, even if they are thin on the ground at home says Andrew Coombs, managing director of AXA PPP International

Andrew Coombs
Andrew Coombs

So far, 2011 is proving to be another challenging year for intermediaries and employee benefits consultants advising on private medical insurance in the UK, with both larger and smaller sized employers continuing to feel the pinch as the British economy slowly emerges from recession.

Whilst in theory there is still considerable scope for growth and development of the UK corporate healthcare market – indeed, at present, only about 15 per cent of the people in employment in Britain receive healthcare cover from their employer – the market is stubbornly flat and it looks likely to remain that way for the short to mid-term.

But it’s another story when it comes to international healthcare cover. The market comprises two distinct segments: expatriate business, where UK-based employers post employees, and in some cases their families, to destinations overseas, and business in new and emerging markets where UK-based underwriters work in partnership with local agents and/or distributors to offer products and services tailored to meet the healthcare needs of local populations.

For us there is greater potential in the latter business channel and, building on our experience of partnering with local distributors in the Gulf, we have now joined forces with our sister company, Axa Asia General Insurance, to strengthen our healthcare business in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong and China.

With this in mind, I would certainly encourage UK-based intermediaries and EBCs to consider the opportunities in international markets too – either directly or by working in partnership with overseas distributors. But it pays to be aware of requirements and regulations governing local markets before stepping in. For example, in Abu Dhabi, where medical insurance is a prerequisite to working in the country, both providers and products must be locally licensed.

For UK-based intermediaries and EBCs, the market for ex-pat business probably holds the greater immediate opportunities. With the increasing economic globalisation, many UK employers are looking abroad to new markets to help ensure their continuing prosperity and achieving this generally necessitates posting employees abroad.

So, for intermediaries and EBCs reviewing their UK clients’ healthcare needs, don’t forget to ask about cover for employees and, their families whom they may be posting to work abroad. Indeed, without a state-funded NHS to fall back upon, for them, healthcare cover is more of a necessity than a perk – and in some cases, such as aforementioned Abu Dhabi, Britons will be refused a working visa without it.

For British ex-pat workers, being posted abroad can bring additional anxieties and insurers can add real value by helping them and their families

Compared with domestic business, the annual premium income is often higher on international business, reflecting the more comprehensive cover clients generally require to meet their healthcare needs abroad, such as cover for primary care, for example, which UK polices generally exclude. It follows that commission on international business is commensurate with the higher premiums.

Providers with a strong global presence can ensure that clients’ employees have access to quality assessed hospitals throughout the world should they require medical care for treatment of an illness or injury. Ideally this will be delivered in facilities where fees are settled directly so members aren’t left out of pocket. Insurers can also help members with securing translations of medical notes or prescriptions by putting them in touch with an English speaking healthcare professional.

Some insurers also provide active case management for more serious conditions, through access to their expert, multidisciplinary medical team that works in partnership with local care providers to assess the situation, evaluate the options and ensure that the member and their family gets the support that they need.

For British ex-pat workers, being posted abroad can bring additional anxieties and insurers can add real value by helping them and their families with access to information on living and working abroad – anything from details about local customs, culture and climate to help in finding a school or an English speaking dentist.

So, with the future looking bright for international PMI there’s never been a better time for intermediaries and EBCs to heighten the value they bring to their clients by demonstrating their proficiency in advising on international healthcare cover.