Expat health Insurance and Private Medical Care in China


Across China, health care can be very varied, when compared to other advanced countries, and only has a few hospitals which operate to western levels. These are all located within major cities. China was amongst the first civilisations to tackle disease and it is now increasing the amount of its new wealth that it puts into its health services.

Who pays for healthcare in China?

Around half of China’s population is covered through its basic medical insurance plan which roughly covers half the costs of health care. The remainder is then either paid by the patients directly or through their health insurer. This is known as supplementary health insurance and is the most sold health insurance in China.

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Hospitals

Expats tend to use private western-style medical facilities when in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai but in the rural areas of China, private clinics are not available. Expats can generally receive good quality care in the main cities, although the choice is limited to those hospitals and clinics specifically developed to meet the demand of expats, who feel more comfortable with western environments. These medical facilities require high expenditures for operating and recruiting and retaining expat medical professionals. They also need to maintain good environmental conditions and provide prompt treatment.

Cost of western-style care

Medical insurance premiums are high and charges for some clinical procedures are very similar to those in the United States. Costs in China can be more expensive than in the US, depending on the type of case, and this is to do with the new hospitals looking to serve high net-worth expats. These hospitals are often owned by Chinese operators with partnerships with established US and international hospital chains. They offer good levels of service and have a wide range of treatments which are often carried out using the latest technology and equipment. Expatriates prefer these hospitals to the normal Chinese facilities. There are no incentives for hospitals to reduce their prices, especially as patients are generally covered by insurance.

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Is health cover essential in China?

It is always advisable to have medical insurance, although it is not generally a condition of entry into the country. Many Chinese Embassies will require proof of health insurance before issuing certain visa types, such as those for foreign students and it can be difficult to purchase local Chinese health insurance policies from abroad. Inbound visitors and expats, would normally rely on international medical or travel insurance cover.

What to look out for when buying health insurance cover

The country manager for the insurance provider InterGlobal, states that not all providers who sell plans offering cover for mainland China are fully licensed there. Steve Conway explains how insurance companies, offering health cover, fall into three groups: Legal international plans, unlicensed international plans and legal domestic plans.

  • Legal international plans are policies offered by international medical insurance companies, or any local companies working with an international partner. These can offer full worldwide cover and broad benefits which are suited for expats.
  • Unlicensed international plans are illegally sold into China from offshore insurance companies not registered to trade in China. These tend to offer full benefits and are often sold by reputable companies; however there is no legal recourse in China if there is a dispute.
  • Legal domestic plans: it is advised that expats need to take care and ensure that they are buying private medical insurance from a licensed insurance salesman. Expats should always confirm that their broker or agent is legally licensed to sell insurance in China, or they should purchase their plan straight from the insurance company.

Transfer of health cover

Expats should be aware of how long they will be residing in China before returning back home. Portable plans allow the policyholder to maintain coverage at home or in another location, but without this, the policyholder risks being uninsurable, should any chronic condition develop while in the country.

Health Insuarance Premiums in China

Stephen Walker, an adviser of Medical insurance services, states that premiums in China are 10% up on European levels. Comprehensive plans will cover the patient, plus consultation charges and tests, irrespective of whether the patient is admitted to hospital.

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