In Thailand, government-funded health care is funded by the Department of Medical Services at the Ministry of Public Health. While the ‘jai dee’ (good heart) concept can be applied to the staff working in state-run hospitals, many foreign nationals and Thais who can afford it opt for the premium care and facilities of the elite private hospitals.
Naturally, this can be quite expensive and researching the right insurance cover for you can be a minefield. That’s why we’ve put together the most important considerations when choosing a health insurance provider for you and your family. We’ve boiled down the key factors into four sections.
1) Is it right for you? Make sure you ask the right questions
If you’ve ever had employee health insurance as part of your benefits package, you’ll know there are some obvious advantages and disadvantages to group health insurance. A big plus is that the company pays for the policy. On the negative side, you don’t typically have the option to customise the policy to fit your needs. With private health insurance, you gain one major benefit: you have complete control over the type of coverage. Is the policy right for you? Make sure you consider the following.
- How extensive is the coverage? What exactly does the insurance cover? Most basic plans will only cover in-patient treatment. More comprehensive plans may include outpatient treatments and other benefits. so consult your provider before buying it.
- Is a lifetime renewal guarantee included? Check whether the insurance policy reserves the right to refuse renewal or exclude serious conditions that have developed while under their coverage. In addition, some policies, but not all, do not cover for your entire lifetime, and may end the policy once you reach a certain age. It is worth checking with your provider if the policy has lifetime renewal before purchasing a plan.
- Travelling abroad? If you need to see the doctor while travelling, how much (if at all) does the plan cover?
- Do you prefer to be treated elsewhere other than your country of residence? Regional and international plans will give you the option to select the location of your treatment. Local plans typically limit your treatment location to the country where you reside, unless it is a medical emergency.
- Employment status. If you rely on the health cover provided by your employer, what will happen if you leave your job?
- Do you have any pre-existing conditions? When looking for a health insurance policy, it may not be possible to find coverage to cover your pre-existing condition, even minor ones. Health insurance policies are designed to cover for new conditions that have not yet developed. This is an important distinction between private health insurance and public health schemes that are not obvious for expats coming from European countries with generous healthcare systems.
- What are the general exclusions? For example, are chronic conditions covered? Are STDs covered? Are pharmaceuticals covered? Most health insurance policies will adopt similar exclusions. It is wise to understand what they are.
- Are routine examinations covered? For example, mammograms, pap tests, vaccinations and other routine check-ups.
- Experience vs community rating: health insurance policies who follow the ‘experience rating’ approach will increase your premium upon the renewal of the policy according to how much you’ve claimed. Policies which follow the ‘community rating’ approach will increase your premiums as much as everyone else who hold the policy even if you’ve claimed a large amount.
2) Consider how your age affects your coverage
The Hollywood actor, James Stewart, once said, “After age 70, it’s patch, patch, patch.” However, as most people who are the wrong side of 30 can testify, it’s physically downhill from here. There are advantages to purchasing health insurance sooner, rather than later, before those physical ailments begin to stack up. It’s also sensible to insure against any nasty surprises such as motorcycle accidents and chronic illnesses.
- Under 30s >> For active young adults who feel healthy and strong, it’s easy to believe you are invincible and to dismiss the need for health insurance. Sure, there’s less risk but it’s a good time to buy as it’s a relatively low cost if you have no pre-existing conditions.
- Ages 30 and 50 >> The older we get, the more we realise the value of looking after ourselves. It’s definitely time to purchase insurance in this age range because of the aggregating effects of everyday life. This includes the pollutants we are exposed to everyday, our sugary diets, alcohol and the physical stresses we place on our bodies.
- Over 50s >> At this age, the risks are higher and more costly. While you may be excluded from certain medical conditions, you can still benefit from a wide range of cover. Check if the insurer requires a medical check-up before you purchase your insurance package.
3) Cheaper doesn’t necessarily mean better
Logically, it’s best to pick the most comprehensive insurance, but make sure it’s a package you can afford. The primary reason for buying any insurance is to save your money when you’re faced with the unexpected. Health insurance is no different. Medical emergencies can happen at any age, and they are never cheap. These escalating costs could end up hurting you financially for many years after the incident.
When researching insurance plans, don’t make the mistake of looking for the cheapest plan. Instead, consider the: benefits & coverage limits, access to support in times of need, services and medical expertise of the company, and the option of a lifetime renewal guarantee.
4) Check your family history (know your risks)
Even though some diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer are inherited, most health insurance policies in Thailand don't examine family history. This is an excellent opportunity for you to take advantage of this gap in background checks, and to insure yourself and your family before it’s too late.
When it comes to insurance, the old adage rings forever true: it’s better to have and not need, than need and not have.
For a more comprehensive guide to personal and employee health insurance, read our ultimate guide to health insurance in Thailand.