It is amazing what can happen in 18 months in China. After years of inaction, real progress is now being made concerning the provision of international standard medical facilities and insurance on the mainland.
International insurance companies have been entering the China market by applying for licenses to market and sell their medical insurance products. Even some of the largest domestic insurers such as Ping An and Tai Ping are developing, licensing and selling medical insurance policies at international standards.
It is said that, due to the heavy investment in state hospitals made by the Chinese government, there is an urgent need for the development of the private medical sector. I believe this depends heavily on greater breadth and depth in these medical insurance programs now being provided by major insurance carriers.
Insurance providers with high-quality medical and personal insurance products in China include: Royal & Sun Alliance, Goodhealth/China Life, IMG/Ping An, AXA/Winterthur, Global Benefits Group, Generali, Taiping Life, PICC, AIG, Manulife, Zurich, Heng An Standard Life.
All of these large-scale operators offer full global coverage and accept renminbi payments, but there are also significant differences in their policy coverage. Insurance carriers such as PICC, Ping An, Generali, and Heng An Standard Life charge lower premiums with their China or Asia-based insurance coverage plans which translates to lower costs than global insurance policies.
Insurance premiums can range from as little as US$390 per person per year for a basic package covering a local area to as high as US$7,792 for a policy with global coverage. It is therefore important to have an insurance plan that lets you select particular areas of coverage or opt out of a one-policy-fits-all scheme.
Insurance policy benefits and the medical facilities you are allowed to use also vary under different policies, so customers must take the time to read the small print when they are shopping for a plan.
For example, insurers such as Goodhealth/China Life do not currently accept individuals or families, only group schemes. Meanwhile, Royal & Sun Alliance offers incentives for large families in its insurance plans by only charging a premium for the first child, with subsequent offspring covered free of charge. This can make a huge difference to the total cost as most other insurance companies will charge for every child covered in the policy.
Know your options
Deductibles or excesses can also be included in your policy with most licensed insurers, with the exception of Goodhealth/China Life. By adding these options, the insured takes on some of the costs from the health insurance policy, and the premium will fall. The higher the deductible or excess, the higher the reduction.
Working outside of Sino-foreign partnerships, some international insurers offer limited insurance coverage that is city-specific. Under Chinese law, they are not allowed to sell their products in multiple cities – unlike their domestic counterparts who come equipped with nationwide licenses.
However, there has been a significant rise in the number of licensed international insurance brokers operating in the mainland. The likes of Panoramic Insurance Brokerage (Healthline Asia), FESCO Insurance Brokerage, and Jiang Tai now all offer flexible pay plans, competitive product prices and localized servicing.
By going through one of these brokers rather than the local issuer directly, customers can expect better administration and billing networks as well as access to a variety of services all under one roof.
The bottom-line is that medical insurance is improving in China for foreigners and locals who can now, for the first time, purchase insurance plans of international standard.
Hughes is the executive director of Panoramic Insurance Brokerage, a fully licensed and regulated insurance brokerage and consultancy in China specializing in internationally standardized personal and general insurance.