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Should I buy international health insurance?

Feeling unwell, needing a minor or major opera­tion? Unsure of Japanese hospitals, medical prac­tices, and of course concerned about the language difficulties? The last thing you want to worry about is how to deal with the stress of finding a suitable doctor or hospital on top of feeling unwell.

When you are away from home, you want to know that you and your family will be able to access good quality healthcare, at any clinic, private or public hospital—wherever you are in the world— without having to worry about the costs.

Private Medical Insurance (PMI) offers reassur­ance and peace of mind so that you can have the treatment at a time and place that suits you and your lifestyle. Many companies offer cover and are usually split into different levels of cover depend­ing on your specific requirements, and can often include dental as well as medical cover. The rule of thumb is—the more cover you want, the higher the cost of the premium. Another factor that needs to be taken into account is where you are living and whether you need to have coverage in the United States. U.S. medical fees are higher than anywhere else in the world so be prepared for higher premi­ums if you intend being treated there.

Premiums are age related and policies are sold on an annual renewable basis. The older you get—the higher the risk—the higher the premium. Some policies have a facility for you to self-insure for smaller claims, only paying out for larger medi­cal bills. This way you can reduce your premiums. Often you can also get a no claims discount if you haven’t claimed in the policy year. Naturally, once you claim that discount disappears until you build up further no claims history.

Be aware most insurers will not accept pre-exist­ing medical conditions for up to two years. They do this to avoid paying out immediately if you have a chronic illness. The policies are designed to cover acute illnesses and all the attendant costs including the medication including physiotherapy, and increasingly are accepting alternative medicine such as chiropractor and acupuncture treatment and therapy. Dental cover is usually limited to restoring original teeth only.

It is now possible to include regular health checks too, covering things such as cancer screening, cardiovascular examinations, neurological examina­tions, well child tests, vital sign tests (e.g. blood pressure, cholesterol checks) and vaccinations.

Many of the international policies are avail­able in three currency options of U.S. Dollar, Euros and Sterling. You can pay the premiums monthly, quarterly or annually. You will find that it costs extra the more premiums that need collecting so annually is often the cheapest option. For ease of payment it is best to set these up on your credit card. One tip here is that if you have an airmiles programme on one of your credit cards—use that one for your medical insurance premiums to benefit from the airmiles.