“Many companies use warzone coverage as a marketing gimmick”

ExpatHealth.org recently spoke to Doug Polifron, Director of New York International Group (NYIG). He discussed the reasons behind NYIG’s warzone insurance offerings, the importance of understanding policy exclusions and challenges the industry will face over the next 3-5 years.

NYIG has been particularly vocal about marketing its warzone insurance plans. What’s the draw of these policies?

Right now the Middle East is exploding. Yet journalists and contractors still have to do their jobs. Companies have contractual obligations to fulfill. Six months ago for example there was no State Department warning for Bahrain, now there is and companies still have to honor their contracts.

Why is standard medical evacuation cover not adequate in these cases?

Most standard policies exclude countries with State Department warnings. They’ll say they cover terrorism, or political unrest, but if you go down to the fine print it says ‘IF there is no travel warning.’ A lot of companies just use it as a marketing gimmick. If you’re in France and there’s a terrorist attack you’re covered. But if you’re in any of these countries with warnings and you’re injured because of a terrorist attack or a demonstration, even something you may just stumble into, any of these things can be linked to an exclusion. On top of that, if a travel warning is issued while you’re in a certain country that’s also a basis for exclusion.

What we’ve done at NYIG is design policies so that when someone goes into one of these countries he will have coverage. We’ve done that for several years now.

Any advice for expats looking for more general coverage?

The first thing they need to decide is whether they want coverage in a single country or region, or worldwide. Then look at the types of benefits they want, what they can afford to pay. After that it’s a matter of evaluating what best meets their needs. Another thing they may have to decide is whether they want a US or European-style medical plan.

Healthcare in the US looks very different from Europe. What do American and European expatriates look for differently in a health insurance plan?

Europeans prefer to deal in their own currency, usually EUR or GBP. They want policies oriented more toward a socialized medicine platform, they want to see their terminology and their language used.

Basically what you’re used to in your culture is what you’re going to want in a plan. Call it ‘the comfort factor.’

What challenges do you see for the expat health insurance industry over the next 3-5 years?

One is the global economy in general.

Another is containing costs. What we’re seeing right now, especially in Asia, is that sometimes when expatriates go into hospitals the price of care goes up. Doctors and hospitals say, “here’s a pot of gold.” They charge an expatriate two or three times what they charge a local. This of course impacts premiums.

Doug Polifron is Director of New York International Group (NYIG). He has 18 years of experience marketing health insurance to expatriates in over 70 countries worldwide. International Medical Group recently named him “Producer of the Year” for 2010.