COVID-19 has affected every area of life for people all around the world, and health insurance is no different.

Expats have been suddenly confronted with a global pandemic in a potentially unfamiliar location.

This has forced them to experience the abilities and limitations of their new country’s healthcare system and their insurance policy.

But whether you’re looking to move abroad in the near future or are currently living as an expat, we’ve got you covered.

We have everything you need to know about the current situation, and what we expect expat health insurance to look like in the post-pandemic world.

person gets vaccinated against COVID-19

The effects of COVID-19 will be far-reaching even after everyone's vaccinated

Impact on health insurance costs

We don’t expect the cost of individual policies to rise substantially – especially as health crises generally produce an uptick in the number of people applying for coverage.

You can see this trend happening in the UK already. 27% of people are likely to get private health insurance, compared to just 15% before the pandemic, according to surveys conducted by Consumer Intelligence.

And in May 2020, Allianz Care reported a 235% year-on-year increase in applications for international health insurance policies.

This rise in popularity should stop businesses from hiking up their prices, especially as the public will be less well-off, on average, than they were before the pandemic.

So – in theory at least – health insurance costs should at least stay stable for the moment. When we asked a Cigna representative, they told us they expected to see an annual increase in the cost of policies of about 0.75% in February 2021.

Some companies are also offering a grace period if you can’t currently pay your premiums due to the pandemic, while some costs related to COVID-19 care may also be dropped at the moment.

Impact on accessibility

Accessibility is definitely worse at the moment, in terms of securing a time to be seen by a medical professional – even if you’re on a private plan.

You may well be affected by delays if you’re trying to be seen for non-urgent care, according to multiple insurers, and getting an appointment with your local doctor will also be more difficult than usual.

Aviva has reported registering a massive 5,000 appointments per month through its app, while Allianz Care has seen a 257% increase in calls made to its 24/7 medical advice line during the pandemic.

People both want and need medical services more than they have at any other time in recent history.

But if you have a private policy, you’ll almost certainly have access to care for any urgent conditions, such as cancer treatment or heart bypass surgery.

Accessibility is changing for better and worse

This isn’t necessarily the case for public healthcare patients, as seen in the UK, Europe, and further afield in the US, where people who need urgent care have been let down by an overwhelmed healthcare system.

If you’re admitted to a private hospital with COVID-19, you may be in the care of the public healthcare system, depending on which country you’re in. In the UK, for instance, the NHS is responsible for all COVID-19 care, even in private facilities.

You’ll also almost definitely have to see your health insurance company’s consultants remotely, and acquire approval or reimbursements for medical services remotely as well.

In the long term, this should have a positive effect on the industry’s approach to remote consultations, allowing people who are less able to get around and/or who live a long way from any consultant to get the services they require.

This could even help with spreading effective healthcare to developing nations.

And, as Allianz Care has suggested, it may also fuel the rapid adoption of wearable health technology among those who can afford it.

Impact on what’s actually covered

We spoke to a representative at Cigna, who told us that in line with other providers, face masks and other examples of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) were not covered by the company, but that coverage in general was unaffected.

Testing is also not covered by insurance companies, but we expect COVID-19 to change that fact.

Your policy may already include a vaccination allowance, which we think will increase in the near future, as providers respond to the public’s desire to be protected as soon as possible against both COVID-19 and any future pandemics.

You probably won’t be covered for COVID-19 treatment if you’ve travelled to your current location against government advice for leisure purposes.

Otherwise, you’ll be covered in the usual way, as you would for any other virus. If you’re unable to get adequate medical treatment where you are, your policy may enable you to be evacuated to a different country, or even brought back to the UK.

However, travel restrictions put in place by the UK and the country you currently live in may delay this process. Local governments can also stop you from leaving the area, in case you spread the virus.

Coverage will expand

In a positive move for public relations and public health, insurers such as Bupa have decided that for COVID-19, they won’t enforce any epidemic or pandemic exclusions that are in customers’ policies – but some companies still won’t cover you if you get COVID-19.

We predict that the global impact of COVID-19 will cause a huge reduction in the number of people agreeing to policies with epidemic or pandemic exclusions.

This will subsequently lead to these exclusions all but disappearing from policies over the next decade.

If the global community fails to completely wipe out COVID-19, we may also see a large increase in the number of policies that offer comprehensive pandemic services – such as PPE – as well as specific COVID-19 treatment options.

Summary

Cost, accessibility, and coverage are all complicated and fraught at the moment – but the good news is that all three should trend in positive directions in the post-pandemic world.

Health insurance policies will grow in popularity, while public pressure on governments should prompt them to invest more into medical services. This will cause costs to stay stable or even decline.

Remote consultations will continue to be part of the new normal, making it easier and safer for everyone to speak to a physician. This will also become a way to bring medical services to developing or secluded communities, increasing accessibility and inclusiveness.

The public will also demand coverage for pandemic treatment in future policies, leading health insurance companies to eventually eliminate epidemic and pandemic exclusions from their coverage altogether.