6 Top Mistakes Companies Make With Global Healthcare Plans

Posted on Nov 4, 2013

The Mercer 2011/2012 Benefits Survey for Expatriates and Globally Mobile Employees saw the number of employees on international assignments increased by two-thirds since 2008/2009. Employees on temporary or permanent foreign assignments are key assets to an organization. If the individual becomes ill while away, it could negatively affect the assignment, and even terminate it prematurely. That’s why it’s absolutely critical that your international healthcare plan has the right components. Here are the top six things to avoid with your benefits plan for global employees.

1. Assuming that your company’s existing health benefits plan is enough coverage

If your company is sending employees overseas either on a temporary or permanent basis, you may believe that they are adequately covered under your company’s domestic plan. But domestic medical benefits are not designed to meet global challenges. When it comes to health insurance for your employees on foreign assignments, they have unique requirements. Global benefits plans should be developed specifically for them.

For example, short-term travelers (less than 6 months) might only need simple medical coverage since routine office visits are typically scheduled in their home country. However, they will need medical evacuation, direct-pay hospitals and pre-trip planning assistance to enter countries on business visas.

Long-term assignees (more than 6 months) will require access to routine medical care in addition to acute medical services such as medical evacuation and direct-pay hospitals.

2. Coverage that kicks in only when the foreign assignment starts

Global coverage should not go into effect only upon arrival at the foreign assignment. Your foreign assignees should not head into the assignment with limited knowledge of what lies ahead.

For example, around the world, some prescription medications with the same name have different active ingredients and different indications.

 Brand Name

U.S. Active Ingredient

 U.S. Indication

Foreign Active Ingredient

Foreign Indication

 Foreign Country

 Rubex  doxorubicin  cancer  ascorbic acid  vitamin C deficiency  Ireland
 Urex  methenamine  urinary tract infection  Furosemide  water pill  Australia
 Antagon*   ganirelix  fertility  Astemizole  allergies  Mexico
 Ranitidine  ulcer  Brazil


Pre-trip planning assistance from your global insurance can help identify naming differences before employees need to purchase medications at a foreign pharmacy.

Also, some countries have strict requirements that foreign employees must carry global medical insurance before entry to the country is allowed. Global insurance carriers, such as Aetna, help you navigate legal and visa requirements for global medical coverage with concierge-level service.

If your employees don’t have to worry about making healthcare arrangements and getting the lay of the medical land in a foreign country, they can focus on the task at hand – your business.

3. Choosing an international benefits plan with a limited or no network of medical facilities around the world

Having to coordinate healthcare at the very moment it is needed can only lead to making one feel more ill. Your benefits plan should have established relationships with leading hospitals and other medical facilities throughout the world making it as easy as possible for your employees to get proper medical attention, when they need it.

What’s more, direct access to top medical facilities can help a global employee manage a chronic condition, plan for a healthy pregnancy and delivery, access quality dental care, and enjoy peace-of-mind knowing that should they require medical aid, they will receive the finest care available.

4. Expecting global employees to pay for treatment upfront and get reimbursed later

Imagine being brought to a foreign hospital with a serious medical condition only to be asked for payment upfront. It happens. For example, some Asian countries won’t treat patients in an emergency until payment is guaranteed. For a sick employee, figuring out how to pay for medical expenses can be even more stressful than the actual treatment.

Your expat insurance plan should include access to an international direct-pay medical network that simplifies admission and payment procedures for high out-of-pocket expenses. It enables employees to decide which facility is right for their situation and relieves them of the added pressure of having to pay exorbitant amounts for their treatment up front.

5. Letting them sort out language barriers and health issues alone

What happens when a foreign doctor is recommending immediate drastic surgery and the patient wants a second opinion? Or when a patient is doubled over in pain, but can’t speak the language to explain where it hurts?

Your international healthcare plan should provide a one-call, 24-hour line that will give your employee instant access to an International health advisory team staffed with multicultural, multilingual professionals who are connected to medical professionals around the world. Employees can get assistance with emergency medical evacuations, medical provider referrals, translation services and more – with one central point of contact. 

6. No provision for emergency evacuation from anywhere in the world

No one wants to think about the possibility of needing to be evacuated due to a medical emergency, but being prepared for it can potentially save lives, not to mention thousands of dollars. An air ambulance from Europe to the U.S. can cost as much as $100,000. 

Your global health insurance plan should cover access to a trusted emergency evacuation vendor that is available 24/7, 365 days a year, anywhere in the world and include things like:

  • Medically necessary emergency evacuation
  • Transportation after initial evacuation
  • Return of dependent children
  • Emergency medication, vaccine and blood transfers
  • Hospital deposit and emergency cash advance
  • Translation services
  • Repatriation of mortal remains

Your company doesn’t need to be a major corporation to take advantage of expat health insurance plans with these benefits. Affordable, customized plans are available for as few as two employees who may be in different countries.

If you’re ready to take your business into the new global economy, your global health insurance plan needs to be ready too. For more information, visit our global benefits site or call us toll-free at 1.800.514.4850.