Medical insurance for foreigners on the cards again

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The Thai tourist authority this week announced its plan to subject all visitors to a premium charge to pay for travel insurance. The sum per person would not be higher than 300 baht per visit which could bring in revenue as high as 12 billion baht annually if the number of visitors ever reaches the 40 million targeted by the government before the Coronavirus outbreak.



Details are sketchy at the moment but the fee, if approved by the Thai Cabinet, would likely be added to the cost of the air ticket as a supplement. Visitors by sea and land would likely have to pay at the border or port. A government spokesman spoke mainly of the threat posed by the virus and the need to reduce the problem of foreigners seeking medical treatment in Thailand without proper financial cover.

Travel insurance, of course, is far from comprehensive. Its purpose is to protect to some extent holidaymakers from cancellations, loss of personal belongings and emergency medical treatment. Few policy holders read the small print, but phrases such as “pre-existing condition” or “claiming against an unapproved medical condition” or “known event” can veto the claim. The bigger is the claim, the more intense the scrutiny by the policy brokers and issuers.

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The main concern later this year is likely to be cover for the Corona pandemic. Of course, we don’t know the details at this stage, but the travelling public will need to be cautious. Many companies now refuse to provide any cover for Covid-19 or, if they do, only in a very limited form. Thus you will probably need to “prove” you caught the virus whilst in the country of your vacation, had acted sensibly at all times and were not travelling contrary to home government advice.

Cancelling a holiday beforehand for any reason is a common cause of a claim failing, whilst there are financial outer limits and age restrictions to be considered. Thus the British government has just announced that Brits should stay at home until further notice which could impact on a travel insurance which bans “travel discouraged by a competent authority.”

As regards the hot potato of expats living in Thailand, there has been no recent announcement. Of course, they are not eligible for travel insurance by and large, but require international health insurance which provides health checks, outpatient care and ongoing inpatient treatment of chronic diseases. This requirement was mooted two years ago as a compulsory requirement for all expats, but turned out to apply only to a small number who hold “O/A” or “O/X” visas from a Thai embassy or consulate overseas. In fact, most retirees here hold an “O” or “B” non-immigrant stamp which is then extended annually by the immigration bureau.



What concerns long stay retirees, especially the uninsurable in their 70s and beyond, is whether compulsory international health insurance will be extended to the 95 percent not currently requiring it. Nothing bureaucratic in Thailand can ever be ruled out, but an immigration spokesperson said there was nothing being considered at present. She pointed out that retirement annual extensions of stay already require either a regular 65,000 baht paid monthly into a Thai bank account or a lump sum of 800,000 baht which must be maintained for two months prior and three months after application. For the other seven months, the lump sum must not fall below 400,000 baht. This bond is seen as an alternative to traditional insurance.

Some private and public hospital administrators have also weighed into the debate. They point out that uninsured foreigners who cannot pay their hospital bills are almost invariably of working age and holding short visas. These are the patients who are frequently in the news as candidates for crowdfunding. Whether the new suggestion by the tourist ministry of travel insurance for all holidaymakers relieves the problem is unknown. As always, the devil will be in the detail.