Expat workers may be at risk because of their employers’ lack of healthcare knowledge as they rely heavily on them providing adequate cover, according to a survey.

The poll of 44 companies representing approximately 11,000 employees, found that only 5% of employers felt they fully understood international healthcare.

It means that employers do not always adequately understand international healthcare benefits, according to the research conducted by Jelf Employee Benefits.

Over two thirds, 69%, of organisations surveyed at Jelf Employee Benefits' international healthcare seminar said they cannot keep up with the changing international healthcare rules in all the countries employees are based.

The research found that 98% said staff outside the UK rely on their employers to ensure they have adequate health cover and 38% are concerned the healthcare cover they have for some of their employers outside the UK is not adequate.

It also found that just 2% said their employees understood the rules for international healthcare completely in the country they are deployed while 29% said their employees may feel they do not have adequate cover for themselves, and 43% said they may feel they had inadequate cover for their dependents.
‘Every day we face employers that do not fully understand the, often complex, area of international healthcare, and this shows in black and white the extent of the problem. Rules governing healthcare vary country by country, and the consequences of having inadequate cover can be, quite simply, catastrophic for those involved,’ said Sarah Dennis, director of international healthcare at Jelf Employee Benefits.

‘This situation is avoidable and we cannot stress strongly enough that international healthcare is a specialist area. Organisations need to talk to an expert when looking to cover the health of their employees abroad,’ she added.
The company also pointed out that an employee may only discover their cover isn’t adequate when they try to make a claim.

Meanwhile, expats with a chronic health condition need to find out if it is covered by their insurance. According to MediCare International some insurers are seeking to limit liability and trim costs in the chronic and long term care sector.

It points out that conditions such as cancer can be amongst the most expensive to treat and says that a leukaemia patient, for example, could easily run up expenses if £50,000 in under 12 months. It also says cancer then is one area which blurs the boundaries between chronic and treatable illnesses, with many cancers now curable, albeit after a long period of treatment.

MediCare International quotes three recent cases, all during the last twelve months. A case of Crohn’s disease in Germany has so far run up bills of over £23,000, whilst MediCare International has already refunded costs of nearly £15,000 for a patient with rheumatoid arthritis in Hong Kong. In the US where medical costs can ne notoriously high, a policyholder has had fees close to £90,000 refunded in a case of Multiple Sclerosis with complications.