Ensuring you enjoy the best of health

 Falling ill or suffering serious injury can have fatal results for your finances if you don’t have proper medical insurance

Johan Smits
October 10, 2009

 Falling ill or suffering serious injury can have fatal results for your finances if you don’t have proper medical insurance

While a war over President Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms rage in the US, national health provision in Cambodia is still up for grabs as commercial organisations vie with one another for the Holy Grail of life-saving insurance policies. After all, the internet abounds with chilling stories from people who have had to dig deep to pay for medical care.

Charles Cheo, Forte’s managing director
Charles Cheo, Forte’s managing director

Wherever in the world you live, insurance companies are not charities and what you get is what you pay for. Pre-existing conditions, chronic illness and old age make it something of a survival-of-the-fittest lottery.

In Cambodia, it seems, you can get basic cover that includes emergency evacuation to the nearest appropriate medical facility for less than $1000 a year. But where can you get it, and what are the exclusion clauses so beloved of the insurance industry?

Infinity Insurance offers Cambodian nationals two group policies: personal accident and hospital and surgical. The former covers accidental death and injury while the latter is an in-patient product covering hospital expenses such as surgical treatment, food, accommodation and so on. These are pretty well industry-standard products that can then be moulded around a client’s requirements.

“With regard to our corporate health insurance, the offering is about listening to a client’s needs and developing a package around it,” said David Carter, Infinity’s chief executive officer. His company’s clients range from embassies to non-governmental organisations, educational institutions to corporations, and its products are supported by a panel of about 20 medical service providers which, he said, form a direct-settlement network. “We insure about 20,000 nationals in Cambodia, so we’re one of the bigger players.“

Expatriate health insurance is another offering with products ranging from evacuation to a country with superior medical facilities through to local in- and outpatient cover. For this, Infinity works with a handful of international health funds such as Good Health and William Russell.

Usually, standard policies can be enhanced through options such as outpatient, maternity, dental and optical care. But what is essential and often neglected by foreigners living abroad is compliance with local laws, as it might affect the status of an insurance claim. “The onus is on the client to make sure they comply legally, such as having a valid driver’s licence. It’s a real issue because many people don’t qualify,” said Carter.

Forte Insurance has developed Fig Tree Blue, a product specifically aimed at expatriates living in Cambodia as well as indigenous Cambodians. “The most important part of this product is evacuation,” said Saovanna Or, assistant general manager. Whether evacuation is needed is evaluated by the doctors who present the case to Forte. “More than often we would agree with the doctor,” assures Carlo Cheo, Forte’s managing director.

Like other insurance companies, it also offers corporate medical deals and group discounts. According to Cheo, his company’s product is different because it has local underwriting, which results in quicker approval, faster settlement and a more competitive price. “International products throughout the world are priced in accordance with medical costs. That’s not something we succumb to. For us it’s medical prices first in Cambodia and within the region,” he said.

Forte’s claim that it is the only local insurance company to underwrite risk whereas the rest are selling off-the-shelf products is challenged by Carter as “inaccurate and unfounded”. “We are licensed insurers and we assess risk, underwrite accordingly and issue policies. Our experience is substantial and accordingly our approach is very rigorous. We only ‘use other people’s policies’ for expat health insurance where the benefits clearly warrant that approach,” he added.

Clear and easy communication can make a big difference, as Dean Lennox, a 45-year-old Australian living in Phnom Penh, can testify. A couple of years ago he needed a painful kidney stone removed. After being recommended by a local doctor to have it taken out in Bangkok, he checked that the hospital’s expenses would be settled directly with Good Health, his insurance company.

Chariots for hire: the new Royal Rattanak Hospital in Phnom Penh
Chariots for hire: the new Royal Rattanak Hospital in Phnom Penh

After receiving confirmation, first from the hospital and then by fax from Good Health, that direct settlement would be paid, Lennox booked his flight. Before undergoing the treatment, he once again checked with the hospital’s admittance office as well as with the
doctor treating him and was reassured that direct settlement would be paid. But when he got back to his hospital bed, a fax from his insurance company told him a different story. He would have to pay everything upfront. “I’m not blaming anyone for this. I’m just saying it was bad communication and could have been handled better,” Lennox said. “If I knew in advance, I would have arranged things differently.”

“You pay then you claim back,” said Cheo, while Or adds that the removal of a kidney stone can be done in Cambodia. At Infinity, direct settlement arrangements are available through some of their international funds, but it’s not widespread. “You’d have to be buying into the more comprehensive level of coverage,” said Carter.

However, despite the communication glitch, Lennox is glad he had the insurance. “If I hadn’t, it would have been a lot more expensive,” he said.

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