A lot of people don’t realize that whether or not you will be satisfied with your health insurance plan, boils down to how good the insurance company’s services are. You can have a great plan but if when you try to use the insurance something always goes wrong, or claims are paid incorrectly, this can quickly become a nightmare.
Granted this can be partially offset with the help of your insurance broker, and some people can accept a certain level of trade-off between service and price, but there are still minimum standards people expect.
This article will teach you about the various price vs service trade-offs and which insurance companies in China offer good value and which you should steer clear of. So here we go…I’ve grabbed the cumulative knowledge of all our consultants and our many years of experience and condensed it into the below summary comparisons.
What Are The Most Important Services For An Insurance Plan?
So before we compare service levels among insurance companies in China, you need to know by which metrics we will be considering. There are hundreds of ways to measure service levels, however we find that the most common and important areas which need to work well are:
- Dispute Resolution
- Hotline Quality
- Direct Billing
- Making a Claim
Even with the best insurer, sometimes things go wrong. But if you’re with the right insurer and broker partner, usually any issues or errors can be solved very quickly and avoided in the future. This is an insurance company’s attitude to the client and the ability to quickly resolve any issues. The ability to resolve problems when they arrive is possibly the most important thing we look at when advising on insurance plans for our clients. You want your long-term insurance partner to be accommodating and understanding not belligerent and over-adhere to arbitrary rules.
The first port of call for most people when interacting with their insurance company is either calling the 24/7 hotline or emailing their service team. You might want to check if a particular treatment or clinic is covered under your plan, or chase up a claim, either way the hotline is essential and very useful. A good hotline will know what you want, will provide helpful information and will take on the responsibility for resolving your query in full. If a hotline doesn’t function correctly simple tasks can become infuriatingly unnecessarily complex.
Bupa has the highest quality hotline. Even if you’re in a foreign country and need help in the middle of the night, Bupa’s concierge service will connect you with local network contacts to guide you through any issues day or night.
Direct billing refers to cashless services at network hospitals and clinics. Put another way, it is when you get treatment at a medical provider within the insurance company’s network and you don’t have to pay anything, they simply bill the insurer the money.
This is the best service an insurer can give and it comes as standard with most insurance plans in China. It means you can avoid applying for those pesky claims reimbursements which involve a fair bit of paperwork.
So when examining if an insurance company’s direct billing services are good or not, there are two parts:
- Is the hospital network large and does it include the hospitals or clinics you’re likely to want to use?
- Are there any coverage benefits which are not included in their direct billing services, such as for dental or annual wellness check-ups.
Making a Claim
If for whatever reason you find yourself outside of the insurance company’s hospital network, or direct billing isn’t provided for that type of treatment, then you’ll need to pay first, then make a claim for reimbursement. Making a claim is everyone’s least favorite part of using medical insurance – apart from being ill. Some companies pay their claims fast and proactively help you make a successful claim, while others can take weeks to process a claim only to come back and tell you that you’re missing some information, or that the claim is rejected but without clearly explaining why and how you can rectify it.
Allianz has by far the fastest claim turnaround time of any insurance company on the market. Over 95% of claims are paid within 48 working hours.
Which Insurance Companies Have The Best Service Standards In China?
Using the 4 primary service factors the below chart takes the above service level comparison and compares it with other important factors for making decisions about your health insurance, such as affordability, coverage level and reputation. This illustrates which insurance companies in China are the most popular with expats who live here.
Overseas Service Standards
Another thing to consider is whether or not you will need to use insurance or have cover for when you are outside of China, for example on holiday, business travel or when you’re back in your home country.
Different insurers have vastly different service standards when using insurance overseas. A good example would be ICBC AXA. They provide a solid service proposition in China however using the insurance outside of China can be difficult. Whereas higher cost insurer’s who are more international such as Allianz or Bupa, provide great service both within and outside of China.
Which Insurers Are Best And Worst When It Comes To Overseas Services?
Let’s look at these service elements in more detail.
Strength of The Insurers Overseas Hospital Network
If you have a better insurance company, no matter where you are in the world they should be able to arrange a direct settlement with a hospital in the event you need inpatient treatment or to be hospitalized.
Some insurers will even be able to offer direct billing for outpatient treatment in many countries throughout the world. This isn’t the case for all insurance companies, so if you don’t want to pay huge sums of money for hospitalization out of pocket to have to claim it back later, ensure your insurance plan work well overseas.
Can You Claim With Documents Written In Other Languages?
Imagine this scenario, you go on holiday to France, and whilst there you trip and break your arm. You go to the emergency room, get treated, and pay for the treatment. However when submitting your claim to the insurance company, instead of processing it as normal, they ask you to arrange for it to be translated before they’ll examine the claim. This is a royal pain in the backside and will cost you some money.
The moral of the story is, if you spend significant time outside of China, particularly as a family, ensure your insurance plan work well overseas.
Ability To Advise You When Seeking Treatment Overseas
Bupa has an international concierge service to help you wherever you are. We had a client travelling in Vienna, who unfortunately had a pregnancy-related emergency in the middle of the night. They called the Bupa concierge hotline for emergency assistance, who then transferred them to their European call centre, who in the end directed them to the appropriate maternity hospital and even managed to arrange direct payment of the treatment on short notice…Wow! Very few insurance companies have this high level of service.
Value Added Services
Basic service levels aside, the ultimate insurance company comparison wouldn’t be complete without information on each insurance company’s value-added services. These services can be very important to people who are older, nearing retirement or are a long-term expat who may in the future move to other countries.
For those people nearing retirement one important consideration is whether the insurance company you are considering offers lifetime renewability. Some plans do not allow people above the age of 65 to renew their insurance. So if you’re 60 years old, you shouldn’t buy a plan which doesn’t offer lifetime renewability.
The below insurance companies offer lifetime renewability:
- Now Health
- AXA Tianping
Portability refers to the ability to take your insurance plan with you when you move to another country or to have the option of moving onto an alternative plan suitable for the new country without having to go through the underwriting process again.
This is very important if you’re a long-term expat. As you age more and more medical conditions and illnesses will occur under your plan. You want to ensure they do not become pre-existing conditions on your insurance plan stopping you from have cover for them or being denied cover as a result.
Having an insurance plan with portability will ensure you can keep your great cover as you get older and move around the world with your family.
The below insurers have some level of portability on their China insurance plans:
- Now Health
- AXA Tianping
What About Local Chinese Insurance Companies？
You may have noticed that except for Ping An Health we haven’t mentioned any other local insurance companies such as China Life, Zhong’an, PICC, etc., or some other foreign-branded insurance companies such as Citic Prudential and AIA.
This is for good reason, some local and foreign-branded medical insurance plans don’t offer true insurance cover. They have no qualms about not allowing you to renew your insurance if you get cancer, claim too much, or they simply want to cancel their product. Can you imagine being diagnosed with cancer and the insurance company not allowing you to renew the plan to avoid paying for it?
If a plan is very cheap, it is cheap for a reason. If it’s too good to be true, then there’s usually a catch or trap in the background you can’t see. This is another reason why having an experienced reputable broker is essential to ensure you don’t get ripped off.
This is the reality we have seen. I can’t stress enough, DO NOT buy a plan simply because it’s the cheapest without checking their history and reputation.
Here’s a sample of anonymized emails from certain insurance companies, and a passage from another insurer’s policy wording, confirming that they do not provide long-term secure medical insurance cover.
Insurer A email:
Insurer B email:
A passage from the AIA Medical Insurance Policy Wording
How to get started
“In a fast changing market place China Expat Health’s wealth of knowledge and experience enables them to provide the quality of advice and honest guidance an insurance broker should attain for an individual or company looking to buy health insurance.”
Tobias Meckert, Asia Pacific Regional Manager