What happens when expats suffer setbacks in their recovery?

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Dr Ulrike Sucher, Medical Director, Allianz Worldwide Care explores the cost implications for expats of surgery abroad.

By Allianz Worldwide Care | February 19, 2016

Allianz Care - expat-surgery-feb16.jpg

Recently, as part of my role as Medical Director at Allianz Worldwide Care,  I came across the case of Alexander, a seven-month-old baby boy, suffering from a congenital biliary atresia. This meant that he was missing the duct that connected his liver to his bowels, causing a build-up of bile in his liver. Alexander’s condition was worsening rapidly and progressed to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver).

An urgent liver transplant was necessary to save his life. Alexander was immediately placed on a waiting list for a transplant in the Netherlands, where the average waiting time is three months – however, he needed urgent treatment if he had any chance of survival.

Since Alexander’s family had an international private medical insurance (iPMI) policy in place, Allianz Worldwide Care evacuated Alexander and his parents to the Global Health City Hospital in India for the transplant. Alexander’s father donated part of his own liver to help his son, and they both underwent the surgery a week later.

Unfortunately Alexander’s body rejected the new liver, which is not an uncommon reaction and he required high dose steroids and  immune-modulating medication to help his body accept the new organ. This meant a one month stay in a paediatric ICU.

The initial costs of the evacuation via air ambulance from the Netherlands to India and the transplant surgery rocketed from £116,500 to £233,000. Fortunately, everything was covered by the policy, allowing the parents to concentrate fully on the recovery of their baby.
 
Now, imagine a visit to the doctor where you are told that you need surgery. This could be anything from a routine hip or joint replacement, to a more serious procedure such as a heart valve replacement, spinal surgery or a coronary bypass. This comes as a shock, of course, and expats who don’t have an appropriate policy often face the additional distress of large bills, long waiting lists, limited healthcare options and endless administration.

One way to avoid unexpected healthcare costs is to take out an iPMI policy. A British couple living in France with two young children could expect to pay around £6,400 per annum for iPMI – a small fraction of the cost of Alexander’s care. A single 26-year-old Brit living in Canada could expect to pay around £1,150* per annum. This type of policy can save hundreds of thousands of pounds, and provides assurance for expats that they are covered for almost any health emergency.

Some expats confuse international health insurance with travel insurance, which mostly covers injuries and illnesses that occur on holidays. Expats who are abroad on a more long-term basis need health insurance that covers ongoing and planned medical treatment abroad. This includes evacuation to a different country nearby if appropriate health is not available locally, or  repatriation to another country for treatment, both of which are covered by iPMI, but can be costly without it.

As the number of families living abroad continues to rise, challenges will continue to come up. While patients rightly continue to expect treatment from state-of-the-art healthcare centres, many countries lack the necessary medical infrastructure, or have waiting lists that are just too long.
 
For Alexander, and many others like him, iPMI meant getting the care he needed immediately. Alexander and his father are now recuperating and will soon be fit enough to fly home to the Netherlands.

*Figures based on Allianz Worldwide Care’s online Quick Quote calculator



To find out more about Allianz Worldwide Care international health insurance, or to get a quote, please visit international health insurance quote.