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Your step-by-step guide to getting the best expat health insurance plan

Health insurance policies are never one-size-fits-all and life circumstances have a habit of changing. The Local spoke to an expert from leading insurance broker ASN to help you get the best value bespoke insurance policy.

Your step-by-step guide to getting the best expat health insurance plan
Photo credit: Natasha Fedorova

Many factors affect whether your current health insurance plan is still right for you. Moving to a new country, for example, could mean that your policy is no longer compliant. Even things that seem insignificant, like joining a football team, may require you to renegotiate your coverage. 

We spoke to ASN’s Françoise Villoz to make sure you know the basics before taking out or renewing your health insurance policy.

Step 1: Take stock of yourself

Before negotiating your new policy, take note of any changes in your recent health status along with any other factors that might impact your insurance profile. These factors not only include illness or injuries but whether you’ve taken up a risky new hobby like bungee jumping or if you travel regularly to dangerous regions for work. Furthermore, if you have a medical condition for which you have been paying an extra fee as part of your insurance you might be able to get your health loading or medical exclusion dropped.

Click here to get a bespoke health insurance policy

“If you have recovered fully from a serious skiing accident that happened ten years ago and have not required any treatment since recovering, then your insurance company might be willing to take the loading out of your contract,” advises Françoise.

Photo: Deposit photos

It might go without saying, but before you get into the thick of the negotiation process, it is a useful exercise to ask yourself whether you are satisfied with your current provider. Delayed or partial (or too administratively complicated) reimbursement of claims, for example, might be reasons for you to consider looking for a new insurance provider partner. Similarly, if your premium has increased year on year, you may want to shop around.

Step 2: Research your options thoroughly

If you are satisfied with your current insurance provider (or don’t have time to trawl through all the other insurance providers out there), then the best way to renew your current plan is to call your current provider. If there’s been no change in your circumstances in the past year, then the renewal should be straightforward. However, if your current insurance provider doesn’t – or won’t – live up to your expectations, (or you simply want to find a better insurance provider for your specific situation), then you will need to do a little digging.

Click here to get a bespoke health insurance policy

Françoise points out that insurance companies usually have specialist areas and coverage expertise, and while your provider can usually not refuse you a renewal, it might not be able to update your insurance to cater to your new circumstances. For this reason, a rule of thumb in the research process is to first check whether a company offers comprehensive and favourable coverage for all of your needs in each area of your life. If not, then it’s time to jump ship.

“If you have taken up a sport such as football or tennis you need to make sure when you do your research that your chosen insurance provider covers not only sports in general but your sport in particular,” warns Françoise.

Lastly, even if you are a picture of health and your life circumstances have stayed roughly the same, if you have moved to a new country, you must acquaint yourself with the rules and regulations of your new home. If you don’t, you might find out the hard way that your insurance is not compliant, and that you need to get an additional local insurance.

Photo: Deposit photos

Step 3: Before you ring

Before you pick up the phone to start negotiating your new policy, there are a few things to be mindful of. No new provider will insure you if you’re pregnant (if you are, there is normally a ten- to twelve-month waiting period). Likewise, if you have cancer, you seldom have an option but to stay with your current insurance provider. Secondly, if you have a new medical condition, make sure to have all the details on the table in front of you, and be prepared to negotiate hard if you are looking to upgrade your policy. Before you begin browsing for a new insurance provider, be prepared that your options may be limited in certain countries – including the U.S. – and that, if you have relocated, your current provider might not have coverage in your new country of residence.

Click here to get a bespoke insurance policy

If your medical condition is severe – or if you have been refused an upgrade by both your current and prospective health insurance providers – you might want to consider consulting an insurance broker such as ASN International Insurance. Since brokers usually have strong partnerships with many of the major providers, in certain cases, this can mean the difference between getting a better bespoke policy or not.

“We have a big portfolio with many clients as well as strategic partnerships with many of the key insurance companies,” says Françoise. “Since it is in their best interest to maintain good relations with us, insurance companies are often more cooperative when clients with serious conditions are represented by one of ASN’s experts.”

Finally…

When you receive your insurance proposals, make sure to carefully read both the general conditions (do double-check the cancellation terms!) and the small print of your contract. No-one’s trying to pull the wool over your eyes but you always need to be cautious when changing providers.

“Even if you have found a new insurance provider and you are sure they will take you on, you should never cancel your current contract before you have received final confirmation that your new provider will cover you as per the agreement,” says Françoise.

If you’re short on time but want a bespoke health insurance policy at the best price, consider getting in touch with an insurance broker like Françoise at ASN International Insurance. ASN does all the heavy lifting for you and will send your custom-built top three policy offers within two weeks.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by ASN.

HEALTH

Reader question: Am I liable for ambulance costs in Austria?

The government passes on the costs for ambulances, but the compulsory health insurance might cover the payments - in some very specific cases.

Reader question: Am I liable for ambulance costs in Austria?

Austria has a health system with compulsory health insurance for its citizens, similar to many of its neighbouring countries. Everyone is insured, either by their employer, themselves, or, in some cases, by the state.

However, the insurance models can get complicated and the “who pays for what” question can result in some costly responses. In the case of an emergency, when an ambulance is called, the professional rescue is made by the government ambulances and rescue service.

The costs are then paid for by the health insurance fund, with 75 per cent of Austrians covered by the Österreichische Gesundheitskasse (ÖGK).

Can the health insurance companies refuse? 

The health insurance companies refuse to cover the costs for four main reasons, according to the City of Vienna: when the person is not insured at the time of the rescue operation, when there is no “medical emergency”, in cases of alcohol or drug abuse, and in case the person is found dead when the emergency services arrive.

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Austria

The exceptions are not without controversy, and patient lawyer Sigrid Pilz criticises the “lack of love in the procedure”, according to statements she has given in Austrian media.

There is also very little clarity on what qualifies as a “medical emergency”, and the health insurer says that it will cover costs when the insured person is “unable to talk and cannot use public transport due to their physical or mental condition, even with an accompanying person”.

“Only medical reasons count”, according to the ÖGK website.

Air rescue in Austria

Another significant exception to the insurance coverage concerns air rescue. The ÖGK says that it will cover the costs of domestic transport by aircraft if the patient is in danger of death, and the urgency calls for air transport. Additionally, the medical necessity must be proven by a doctor and recognised by the ÖGK.

The insurance company highlights that this does not include “accidents in the practice of sport and tourism on the mountain” – a not so rare occurrence in the Alpine country.

On its website, ÖGK reiterates that it “recommends taking appropriate precautions. Otherwise, an emergency can quickly become a big financial problem”.

The “appropriate precautions”, according to expert lawyers, would include hiring private insurance.

How much does it cost to call an ambulance?

The fees for emergency rescue are set by the municipal council in Austria. In Vienna, there is a lump payment of €709 for any use of the public rescue service – even if both assistance and transport have been deemed unnecessary.

There is also a €30 fee for each kilometre driven if the assistance is needed outside the city limits.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How freelancers in Austria can pay four times less in social insurance

The fee is valid from the moment an ambulance leaves its station. In practical terms, this means that if somebody faints on the street and a third person calls the ambulance in concern, emergency service will come. Even if the patient wakes up well and does not require assistance, they will receive a €709 bill.

There are several cases of people who called an ambulance after foot injuries, or due to high fever, for example, and as they were not considered “severe enough”, received the payment request.

It is worth mentioning that there are also ways to waive or reduce the fee, including in cases of low income or after direct negotiation with the insurance company.

It is not difficult to find examples, especially among immigrant groups and Austrian media.

In one case, shared on social media, Irina B. was a student in Vienna when she got sick with a high fever and dry cough – before the coronavirus pandemic. She decided to call the emergency ambulance and received a quick checkup at home and the recommendation to “drink a lot of tea”.

“On the day after, I went to my doctor, and he gave me treatment recommendations. I almost forgot about this story, but four months later I received a letter asking me to pay around € 700”, she wrote.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What are Austria’s new rules around sick leave for employees?

She decided to go to the main insurance office with her doctor’s sick note. The ÖGK representative told her to call the general health line 1450 in cases such as hers in the future and waived the payment.

“He said it was my first penalty, and I also suppose the certificate from my doctor really helped”, Irina said.

What should you do to avoid the high ambulance costs?

The best way to avoid ambulance costs is to call the Austrian health line at 1450. The health workers are trained to give advice on the phone.

They can quickly assess whether you need an ambulance or not – they can also call for you immediately.

The health line can also give medical advice if there is no emergency and call a doctor to your house if necessary.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s ‘tick vaccine’ and should you take it?

Whenever travelling, even inside Austria, primarily if you practise winter sports, it is worth considering private insurance with air rescue coverage.

Costs for helicopter rescues could add up to thousands of euros. The compulsory insurers will not cover in most cases.

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