Cost of healthcare treatment abroad may be significantly higher than employers realise

Healthcare varies significantly around the world, from practices, availability and more strikingly the cost. Yet many employers may be unaware that costs can fluctuate so much between different regions. Businesses need to be better prepared for, and protected from, unexpected medical bills which can often escalate quickly, says Towergate Health & Protection.


Potential high costs of healthcare around the world

Many businesses may be unaware that treatment costs can differ significantly in different parts of the world, and need to have a plan in place for whichever region they post employees. For instance, everyday incidents like treating a broken leg might cost €18,000 in Italy (around £15,000*), versus an eye watering $41,000 in the USA (around £32,000*). A hernia repair in the UK might be £5,000 but could cost HK$145,000 in Hong Kong (around £14,000*).

Employers may underestimate the cost of international healthcare compared to those regions where they already have staff located. Research from The International Federation of Health Plans shows healthcare costs in the United States are far higher than in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Spain. The nature of medical care is that it can be unpredictable, and needing treatment overseas is very different from having the safety net of institutions like the NHS on the doorstep.

It’s also vital to consider that some staff might not always be stationed in one place, or could work in a number of different regions, so will need cover for multiple locations.


Have the appropriate cover in place

Another consideration employers need to look at is what cover they really need. Some cover may not be appropriate, and businesses need to look at the profile of their workforce when choosing what must be included. For example, maternity might be something to incorporate but may not be relevant for all companies – it depends on the unique makeup of each workforce. Likewise, off-the-shelf cover may not always be suitable, as it may not cover all regions where staff work or may work in the future.

Understanding the demographics of staff is key to ensure the cover a business has in place is appropriate, and crucially, is arranged before an employee travels.


The true cost of employees becoming ill abroad

For more serious accidents or illnesses, an employee might not be able to get the treatment they need locally and may require evacuation to more robust medical facilities – which can often be a flight away. Businesses need to consider including evacuation and repatriation if access to specialists and quality medical facilities is limited where staff are based.

Furthermore, it’s not just the cost of initial treatment employers need to consider, employees may require scans, diagnostics, follow-up appointments or pharmaceuticals which can all add significantly to the costs and can mount up quickly. For instance, an MRI scan could be £900 in Hong Kong, and closer to £100 in Egypt.

Kim Heath, international account manager at Towergate Health & Protection says: “The cost of healthcare varies significantly around the globe, and there’s always the potential that employers could be faced with a huge medical bill if they don’t have appropriate cover in place. The important thing is to consider the demographics of a workforce, where they’re stationed, where they may be stationed in the future, and to put in place plans to support them appropriately before they travel.”

* Based on exchange rates on 28 October 2019