Many expats are unfamiliar with hospital insurance when they first move abroad to Thailand.
Coming from the UK, where private health insurance isn’t the norm, I can definitely see why many expats struggle to get their head around it when they move abroad. Especially in Thailand, where foreigners don’t have equal access to public healthcare services as locals do, expats are suddenly faced with the prospect of securing health insurance. I’ve met people who don’t know where to begin and opt for the cheapest plan they can find.
But, of course, the health insurance world is filled with jargon and plans with lower premiums usually have a catch. So, it’s important to understand what a typical plan should include as a minimum and whether anything is being compromised on.
In this blog, I’ll answer some of the questions I get asked about hospital insurance, as that’s a basic feature of most health insurance plans in Thailand.
What is hospital insurance?
It’s worth pointing out that insurers sometimes use different terms for the same thing - hospital insurance, hospitalization insurance, inpatient coverage, or even a major medical plan. Put simply, this covers you in the event that you are admitted overnight for a short-term or long-term stay at a hospital due to an illness, accident, or intensive care. Benefits vary depending on the chosen plan and limits, but they will tend to cover things like:
- Semi-private or private hospital room during surgery.
- Rooms for intensive care.
- In-patient (done whilst you’re admitted to the hospital) diagnostic tests such as X-rays, MRI, CAT scans, and laboratory tests.
- Medicines provided during your stay at the hospital.
- Ambulance expenses.
- Surgery charges.
- Anesthetist and operating theater fees.
Unfortunately, anything not mentioned in the above list will not be covered through hospital insurance. So, just to recap, hospital insurance doesn’t include outpatient coverage (seeing a medical practitioner or running diagnostic tests, without being admitted to the hospital), as well as coverage for dental, vision, or maternity care. Plans that include coverage for these will cost you more.
Hospital insurance is the bare minimum in most health insurance plans. And it’s not hard to see why that’s the case. Even though the majority of your visits to a hospital in Thailand will most likely be for minor ailments, hospital insurance is meant to protect you against unexpected and mounting costs associated with hospitalization and surgery fees. But that doesn’t stop many expats from wondering if it's worth it.
Is hospital insurance worth it?
Given the uncertain world we’re living in right now (and yes, I’m talking about COVID-19), knowing that you’ll be covered in the worst case scenario is a major relief. In fact, the Thai government even mandates that any foreigner seeking to enter the country during this time has to secure health insurance. Yet, whether hospital insurance is worth the money comes down to where you seek treatment, namely whether you go to public or private hospitals.
Private hospitals in Thailand are way more expensive and hospital bills can spiral very quickly - particularly in top-end private hospitals like Bumrungrad International Hospital, Bangkok Hospital, and Samitivej Hospital. I can assure you that having a health insurance plan that at least covers the cost of hospitalization will be a massive lifesaver if you go to these hospitals. For newly-arrived expats, let’s go over the differences between public and private hospitals.
Public Hospitals vs Private Hospitals
While both public and private hospitals in Thailand are excellent, the former is plagued with overcrowding and long wait times. What’s more, if you don’t speak Thai, you’ll also struggle to communicate with medical staff. Conversely, visits to private hospitals are far more comfortable. Some of the best private hospitals catering to medical tourists will also be very used to dealing with foreigners - in terms of language, culture, and even hospital food!
To top it off, price discrimination is enshrined at public hospitals. In September 2019, Thailand went a step ahead and introduced dual pricing legislation aimed at foreigners at public healthcare facilities, which allows expats to be charged more than a local Thai person for the exact same treatment. Many expats I know feel uncomfortable with this policy and choose to turn to private hospitals instead.
How does hospital insurance work?
If you need to make a claim under hospital insurance, then you’ll be glad to know that many insurers have a direct billing system in place. This means you won’t have to pay out of pocket and deal with the reimbursement later. In the event that there isn’t a direct billing system, you should keep hospital receipts, doctor’s notes, and any other evidence in order to speed up the reimbursement process.
For scheduled appointments or elective surgeries, it’s also advisable to notify your insurer or broker so that you can get confirmation that the treatment is covered under your plan. Speaking from my own experience working for insurance broker Pacific Prime Thailand, you can also get a support team that can advise and assist you throughout the claims process, so that you can focus on your treatment and recovery.
I hope my explanation broadened your understanding of hospital insurance, but if you’d like to learn more about this or expat health insurance in Thailand, then I’d love to hear from you. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact one of my colleagues.