IPMI is an investment, not a cost

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The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is often misunderstood as irrelevant, or a panacea for all ills when abroad in the EEA/EU. The travel press is littered with examples of how the 'EHIC didn't work'. They're wrong, it does work, but everyone needs to understand what they are getting - or not.

Countries in the EHIC scheme must extend broadly the same state healthcare to cardholding visitors from another member country as they do to their own citizens. But be wary of relying on the EHIC too greatly, as some countries charge visitors for certain services that we receive free on the NHS.

If you’re travelling in France, for example, you’ll have to pay for GP visits and ambulance services, because French citizens do. In Spain, you are as likely to be delivered to a private hospital as a state hospital. If it's private your EHIC card will not be accepted.

The card does provide cover for what we might consider 'routine' problems – an ear ache, a sprain or even a broken bone. What it does not cover is loss of earnings, loss of enjoyment of a hard-earned holiday, repatriation or evacuation to your own country, visits of relatives to the hospital abroad and so on. This is typically the province of travel insurance, which usually covers a range of other benefits beyond medical cover.

However, travel insurance is also subject to horror stories, and it is important to ensure that the cover offered is sufficient. Many providers require that travellers have an EHIC too, in order to reduce the incidence of claims arising for otherwise free (or low cost) treatment.

While the EHIC and travel insurance will provide medical benefits to a particular standard, this approach is wholly inappropriate when companies are seeking to provide for their employees who are working and often based abroad, whether in an EHIC country or not.

This is where International Private Medical Insurance (IPMI) schemes come into their own. Available for individuals or groups, it serves to overcome the limitations of EHICs and travel insurance.

As well as all the health benefits IPMI offers, employees find it a very attractive benefit, which helps with attraction and retention. It also helps mitigate the increasing cost of recruitment and training, as well as demonstrating to the employee that they are valued by the business. It can be individually tailored to meet the demands of the business, and to form part of a rewards and benefits programme that meets wider HR and company objectives.

It can also provide for the migration of the entire family to a new country of operation, or for an individual wanting the comfort of knowing that in the event of serious illness they can choose their place of treatment, at home or abroad.

As a general rule, businesses might view the EHIC as suited only to emergency travel requirements in EU/EEA countries, and travel insurance as suited to slightly longer term, but temporary, staff assignments both within the EU/EAA and more widely.

IPMI should represent an investment in your business instead of an operating cost. Recruiting staff, then deploying and providing medical care for them while abroad can be an expensive business, but IPMI can help. It can attract the right people in the first place and minimise the productivity issues an illness can bring. So think IPMI, then think again. Remember – it can only enhance your company reputation.

Audrey Rowley is an international consultant at Punter Southall Health & Protection Consulting

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