Battling high premiums


Health insurance premiums are almost always guaranteed to increase year-on-year. Some years, the inflation may be more than others and providers will have different premium increases from their competitors. Some years, the premium increase of your international health insurance plan can be drastic, making it feel like high premiums have made the plan not worth it. While these increases usually can’t be avoided, there are a number of things you can do to reduce the premium you pay either when renewing an existing plan, or signing up for another plan.

Reducing premiums when renewing your plan

If you find that the premiums for your existing plan have increased beyond your price threshold, it may feel like you are stuck paying the increase, but there are actually a few things you can do to reduce your high premiums, or at the very least minimize the increase.

First, review your existing plan

Almost every health insurance plan has different coverage options you need to select when you sign up for the plan. It would be a good idea to review what exactly is covered by your plan as there may be some coverage elements that you may not need at this time. These extras will vary by plan, and there are some you may be able to remove, which could lower your premium.

You can also look at the dependents on your plan. It could be that your spouse got a new job in the past year with a solid benefits package, including health insurance, or your children have started at a new school which offers health insurance via the school. If this is the case, it could be worth it to remove them from your plan in order to lower your premiums.  

Another option that has become increasingly popular in the past few years is to introduce a co-pay or deductible to your plan. A co-pay is an agreed upon amount that you will pay each time you submit a claim, while a deductible is an amount you pay each year or for each claim before it can be submitted. By adding one, or both of these to your plan, you will see your premiums decrease. If you are currently healthy and have not had to see a doctor regularly in the past couple of years, this could be a viable solution.  

One thing to be aware of, however, is local regulations regarding health insurance. Take for example Dubai, which has implemented regulations that state that all expats need health insurance before a visa will be issued. This health insurance needs to meet, and cover, specific limits, and if you go below these you will likely see your visa renewal refused. If you live in a country with regulations like these, it would be beneficial to not only know the mandated requirements, but also to not reduce your plan below them.

Second, consider discounts

We don’t mean asking for a discount on your normal premium – most insurers will not normally offer any discounts – but there are other ways to receive a discount. Many insurers offer family plans that come with a form of built in discount. For example, some plans may require you to pay for your first child, while offering free coverage to your other children. Others will offer a discount of up to 25% on children.

The same can be said for group or corporate medical insurance plans. If you own or manage a business, establishing a group plan for your employees is usually a good way to reduce premiums largely because insurers can spread the risk seen with individual plans around, and will offer lower premiums to reflect this. It could be worth checking into transferring an existing plan over to a group plan.

Another option is to look if your plan has what’s called a ‘No Claims Discount’, or NCD. Plans with this type of policy will automatically apply a discount if you go a certain period of time, usually one year, without any claims. With many NCD policies there is an increase in the discount (up to a certain amount) for every year without a claim.

Reducing premiums before you purchase a new plan

If you feel that your existing plan is just not going to work, or that the premiums (even after discounting measures are taken) are too high, then looking for another plan may be a solid strategy. Here are four things to consider when looking for a plan with lower premiums:

Region of coverage

One of the key factors around the ever increasing cost of international health insurance is the fact that health care in places like the US, the UK, Hong Kong, and indeed almost every other country, keep increasing. If you are looking for a new plan, you could find lower premiums if you restrict your coverage by region. For example, if you are not from North America, then a plan that offers worldwide coverage, excluding the US and Canada will have considerably lower premiums.

The same can be said for more regional coverage – a plan with South East Asia only coverage will have lower premiums than full worldwide plans. Just be aware that if you do limit your coverage on a regional-basis, you will not receive coverage for any medical bills incurred outside of this region, so if you travel a fair amount outside of the region a more robust plan may be worth it. 

Type of coverage

Health insurance plans of all types offer numerous types of coverage with the vast majority basing their plans on three of them:

  • Inpatient – coverage for medical care that is deemed to be inpatient only. This usually requires you to be admitted to a hospital for a certain amount of time – usually 24 hours or more.
  • Inpatient and outpatient – Coverage that includes inpatient care and care that is not inpatient, but usually given at medical centers or hospitals. This includes doctors offices and normal checkups.
  • Full coverage – This includes the two types of coverage above along with additional elements including maternity, dental, and more.

Generally speaking, full coverage plans carry the highest premiums, while plans with inpatient only coverage have the lowest. Plans with inpatient and outpatient coverage will have premiums that can be quite spread out, and are usually based on what is covered by the provider.

One way people reduce premiums is by going with a plan that offers a lower level of coverage. For example, if you have a plan that offers full coverage, you could see reduced premiums if you change coverage to inpatient and outpatient only. The same can be said for people who don’t go to the doctor often, an inpatient plan that is really for serious medical conditions only could be more beneficial.

Plan network

Many health insurance providers have a preferred network of doctors and clinics that they work with. This network has agreed to accept payment from the provider directly, meaning that the facility will bill your provider first. While the larger insurers have strong networks in place, there is a chance that your preferred doctor or clinic may not be part of this network. If this is the case, you will usually be required to pay out of pocket and then submit a claim for reimbursement. Should your provider deny this claim (because it is “out of network”) or only pay part of it, you will be left with a bill on top of your premiums. Therefore, it would be a good idea to ensure that your clinic of choice is part of your provider’s network.

What’s more, it would be a good idea to also check how much your doctor charges. Higher cost doctors, such as those in niche markets or private facilities, will usually charge more which means you will need a plan with higher limits to cover care. Plans with higher limits will inevitably have higher premiums, if it is possible, finding a doctor that is cheaper could allow you to reduce your coverage limits, which means lower premiums.

Coverage you actually need

Finally, one way to find a plan with lower premiums is to look for one that offers coverage only for what you need. For example, if you are a male, the chances of you needing maternity coverage are zero, so securing a plan with this type of coverage leads to you paying premiums for claims you will not actually need to make.  

Contact our insurance experts

Finding coverage, or reducing premiums on an existing plan can be an involved process. What we recommend is working with one of the experts at Pacific Prime. We can help you identify your needs and plans that meet them, and even suggest ways you can reduce your premiums. Contact us today to see how we can help.

Should we be worried about MERS?


In the first week of June one of the top stories carried by almost every news agency was centered on MERS. In Greater China the news centered on one man who flew from South Korea to Hong Kong after being exposed to the disease and subsequently entering mainland China, exposing people in both Hong Kong and Southern China to the disease. Beyond that, MERS seems to have caused a massive scare in South Korea, where CNN reported that on June 4 the government closed over 900 schools and as of June 5 over 1,300 people were in quarantine with 35 people actually having the disease and four dead, with all figures expected to rise – possibly exponentially.

This reaction is similar to that seen in Hong Kong during the 2009 swine flu epidemic that swept through the city, causing schools to close early and widespread near panic. The thing is, MERS is not exactly well known in this part of the world, and a number of clients have called us asking if they should be worried, as well as if their insurance will cover any MERS related illness. To help, we have come up with this brief guide that looks at what MERS is, whether it’s as serious as news agencies are making it out to be, and how insurance companies will cover it.

Define MERS

MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), according to the CDC, “Is an illness caused by a virus (more specifically, a coronavirus) called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).” This virus is in the same family as that of the common cold and SARS, and was first discovered in 2012 – with the first officially recorded case coming from Saudi Arabia.

To date, almost all of the cases can be traced back to the Middle East, including the latest outbreak in South Korea and subsequently China and Hong Kong. In this case, the first patient had traveled to the Middle East and became sick after he returned. His son was exposed and then visited both Hong Kong and southern China potentially exposing passengers who sat near him and maybe even others who have had contact with him while he has been quarantined in a hospital in China.

Because MERS is part of the coronavirus family, the symptoms are often similar to those of the common cold, only more severe. According to the WHO (World Health Organization), “The clinical spectrum of MERS-CoV infection ranges from no symptoms (asymptomatic) or mild respiratory symptoms to severe acute respiratory disease and death. A typical presentation of MERS-CoV disease is fever, cough and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is a common finding, but not always present. Gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, have also been reported.”

With a death rate estimated by the WHO to be around 36% of all cases, and an increase in the number of cases in the past couple of months, it has many in Asia (especially China and Hong Kong, both of which have a dense population) worried.

Is MERS as serious as it’s made out to be?

This can be a hard question to answer, largely because we aren’t trained medical professionals, and partly because it can often be tough to decipher the severity of an incident from news articles alone. In our research, we have found that this is a serious enough issue to spark cities like Hong Kong to implement warnings and increase screenings at points of entry so as to hopefully be prepared for any outbreak.

According to the WHO, “The virus appears to cause more severe disease in older people, people with weakened immune systems, and those with chronic diseases such as cancer, chronic lung disease and diabetes.” Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how this virus is transmitted, but it appears that the vast majority of cases currently stem from people who have been exposed to it while caring for others in the hospital. From what is known about MERS, transmission is normally due to close contact with an infected person and human-to-human transmission is not sustainable as long as precautions are implemented.

These precautions, according to the CDC, include standard cold and flu prevention (washing hands frequently, covering your mouth and nose, staying home when sick, avoiding contact with sick people, and cleaning surfaces touched by sick people on a regular basis. If these steps are followed – especially the avoiding of close contact with sick people – then we should see this disease managed.

If you believe you have been in contact with someone who has recently traveled to the Middle East and start to get sick, it would be a good idea to see a doctor as soon as possible.

Will insurance cover me if I get MERS?

You should be covered with almost all plans purchased through Pacific Prime largely because there’s a good chance you are not putting yourself at risk of contracting MERS (e.g., visiting the Middle East on a regular basis). Even if you do travel to the Middle East, you should still be covered as long as you have an international plan which includes coverage in that region. It would, however, be a good idea to check the documentation that came with your plan to make sure there are no exclusions for MERS.

In fact, we recommend contacting one of the insurance experts here at Pacific Prime. We can help you go through your plan and recommend options or other plans if need be. Contact us today.

Is your doctor covered by your insurance plan?


Spend even a short amount of time looking for health insurance in Hong Kong and you will quickly find that there is a mind-boggling number of plans available. While to many, this choice is a good thing – you can find a plan that fits your needs perfectly – it can also be overwhelming if you’re not familiar with health insurance. A common issue that comes up when looking for a plan without thoroughly understanding the policy is that you may find your doctor or facility of choice is not covered.

In Hong Kong, there are a large range of medical facilities available. You can find facilities that charge 100 HKD for a visit, or some that charge over 1,000 HKD for a simple consultation. As such, not every insurance plan will cover all of the facilities in your area. In fact, insurance companies usually offer coverage based on health care networks – a group of medical facilities that essentially agree to accept payment from the insurance company. These networks, and actually finding where your plan is accepted in Hong Kong, can be confusing. So, to help, we have written this article which looks at the three most common groups of networks.

Group 1: Public and low cost facilities
As the name suggests, plans that support these networks provide coverage only for low cost providers and public facilities. These plans are often designed to be very cost effective with lower premiums and, subsequently, lower limits and benefits. This means that if you purchase one of these plans you will only have access to lower cost facilities because the limits will only really cover the costs at these facilities

While some insurers do not cover treatment outside of your network, others will. This really depends on the insurer you choose. In fact, many will give you the flexibility to still visit doctors and hospitals outside of the network, but they will only provide coverage up to the average cost of facilities that are within your list.

So if you do purchase a budget plan, and they tell you that your doctor or hospital is covered, you still need to be careful and check the limit that they will cover up to. The plan won’t be very useful if it only covers a small amount of what your desired doctor actually charges.

Group 2: Mid to high cost facilities
These are plans that offer higher limits and a larger health care network, but may still impose coverage limits, copays, or deductibles on your treatment cost. Essentially, these plans have been designed to allow you greater flexibility in selecting your hospital, but the cost will be shared.

A copay or deductible is a part of the treatment cost that you will pay out of pocket. This amount will be agreed to before the start of the policy, and is a good way to help manage the cost of your plan while allowing you to better set and manage risk. In this way, you can still get care from the doctor or hospital that you want when you need it, without paying a high annual insurance premium.

The main downside with this type of network is that it may still limit access to the most expensive facilities in your area, especially those who are extremely specialized or serve only a small niche market. Other plans will allow you to access these facilities, but the coverage limits will be lower, which means you will be paying more if you visit them.

Group 3: Unlimited Network
Plans with unlimited networks are typically offered by international insurers, and will have high or no limits. Yes, the premiums for these plans are typically more expensive, but they do let you rest easy knowing that you can have access to the very best care that the world has to offer, because you’re not limited to treatment in public or lower tier private hospitals in Hong Kong. In fact, because these plans are international in nature, they will usually cover medical treatment anywhere in the world.

Because of their international nature, these plans are also most suitable for expats and High Net Worth individuals because they provide coverage in facilities and locations that will feel most comfortable to them – e.g., an expat’s home country. Another benefit for expats is that these type of plans allow for treatment immediately, without waiting months to re-enroll in the public healthcare system if they move to a new city or country.

How do I find out if my doctor/medical facility of choice is covered?

Regardless of the insurance plan you select or the provider you work with, there is a chance that your doctor or medical facility of choice may not be covered. There are three common ways this can be found out:

1. Look at the documentation included with the plan
All plans come with documents that explain not only what is covered, but also where you can receive medical attention. For example, if you buy a plan through Pacific Prime, we send you a Quick User Guide with information on your plan, including where you are covered.

Other plans, especially local ones, will also come with a booklet or a link to a website that lists all locations, clinics, and hospitals where your plan is accepted. When you sign up for a new plan, it is a good idea to store this information in a secure location so you have access to it when you need it.

2. Contact your main doctor and ask
If you have had your plan for a longer period of time, or are unsure whether your doctor or clinic of choice will accept your insurance plan, it could be a good idea to contact the office directly. They will likely be able to tell you right away if they are part of your provider’s network.

3. Talk to Pacific Prime
Living in Hong Kong, English may or may not be spoken to a level where you can communicate effectively with the receptionist at the clinic or hospital you have selected, so calling and asking may leave you with more questions than you started with in regards to coverage. What we recommend is contacting one of our knowledgeable health insurance professionals. Because we work closely with virtually every health insurance provider in Hong Kong, we can provide you with the details you need, and even recommend a solution if one is necessary.

Transgender Health Care and Insurance


Across international news, we’ve been hearing the word ‘transgender’ a lot more. Some states in America are passing transgender bathroom bills to make public facilities more (or less) inclusive. The Amazon series Transparent picked up its first Golden Globe, and in March even Pope Francis set aside some time to meet with Diego Neria Lejárraga, a Catholic man rejected from his local church after sex reassignment surgery.

Transgender means a person’s gender expression doesn’t match their biological sex. Diego Neria Lejárraga (who, by the way, was welcomed into the Catholic church with open arms by Pope Francis) was born a woman. People who are transgender usually say that while growing up, they never identified with their sex, often experiencing a feeling of having been born into the wrong body. When the choice becomes available, many opt to take hormones or undergo sexual reassignment surgery in order to change their sex.

Continue Reading…

Top 6 Hiking Trails in Hong Kong

hiking hong kong

When most people think of Hong Kong their minds tend to drift towards crowded sidewalks, soaring skyscrapers, designer shopping centres and astonishing luxury stores, but there is another side to this city. A cursory glance at a map shows that great swathes of the territory are open space to explore. In fact, 40 percent of Hong Kong’s land mass is protected, which means there is a wealth of tree lined plains, woods, mountains, wetlands and beaches to explore. With the health benefits of hiking including reduced risk of heart disease, lower risk of blood pressure, lower risk of colon and breast cancer, reduced depression and better quality sleep, there’s no reason not to get out there and tackle one of Hong Kong’s many hiking trails. We count down six of the best trails. Continue Reading…

10 Reasons Why Fall is the Best Season of Them All


Sure the weather is cooling down, your swimsuit isn’t hanging on the balcony ready for action at anytime, and you may even have dipped into your winter wardrobe once or twice for a long-sleeved shirt or a pair of fuzzy jogging pants: but that’s no reason to cry about the end of summer.

A new, arguably even better season has only just begun, and it’s got as much and more to offer as its predecessor. Here are 10 ways to get cozy this season, so cozy that the pleasures of summer may just fade into a distant memory. Continue Reading…

ALS: What You Need to Know


Wait – why are people dumping buckets of ice water over their heads and posting the videos to social media?

Because: ALS. It’s a degenerative disease affecting the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord, eventually leading to loss of motor control throughout the whole body. In the later stages of ALS (which stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and may also be known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a patient is paralyzed and will experience difficulty breathing and swallowing – factors which contribute to the high fatality rates amongst ALS patients.

The Ice Bucket Challenge asks celebrities – and indeed anyone – to drench themselves in ice water and publish the video, to raise awareness of ALS. Participants are also encouraged to donate to ALS research, and Time Magazine has reported that the Ice Bucket Challenge has already brought in more than US$50 million for the ALS Association.

All this ALS buzz is great for improving general knowledge and medical research, but it’s got some people wondering: what’s my ALS risk? If I become an ALS patient, will insurance cover my care? Should I take steps to protect myself right now? Continue Reading…

Oral Hygiene: Getting to The Mouth of the Problem

oral hygiene

Most of us have grown up being instructed over and over by our parents, dentists and teachers to brush our teeth twice a day, to floss daily and that sweets will rot our teeth. We probably took that advice with a grain of salt (or perhaps ignored it completely in our youth) but we can agree that this is all sound advice to foster healthy teeth and gums. What most of us may not know is just how much the health of our teeth affects the rest of our body and overall health. Everyone wants their teeth to look and feel nice but they are also important to speaking, eating and avoiding bad breath and pain. And it’s not just our teeth. Gum, tongue and overall mouth health are equally important. Here we’ll let you know the risks of letting your oral hygiene suffer and what you can do to prevent it. Continue Reading…

The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Prevent Diabetes

Glucose level blood test

Though diabetes is one of the most pressing issues facing world health at the moment, it isn’t nearly as scary as it looks. For the most part diabetes is entirely preventable. Just a few simple diet and lifestyle changes can reverse the disease in a matter of months. One study in the UK had patients on a strict diet of 800 calories per day, and saw most cases return to health in just a few weeks. Continue Reading…

Ebola Insurance: Are You Covered? 


With no vaccination and no cure, Ebola is a disease you really don’t want to get. Unfortunately Ebola is also extremely transmissible, spreading from person to person through blood and bodily fluids, including sweat. Just touching an Ebola patient is enough to spread the disease – even if that patient is already dead. Add to this the fact that Ebola kills 90 percent of the people it infects, and it’s easy to see why the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa is causing huge global concern. Continue Reading…