Horror stories abound of foreigners being injured, getting sick, or having accidents while in Thailand and uninsured. Rumours will tell you that Jim had to pay 10 million Baht to the hospital after his motorcycle accident, and Margie was in for 15 million for just a minor heart attack. The real cost of medical in Thailand would rarely climb so high, however treatments after accidents and serious health problems can certainly run up to a million Baht without insurance.
Is it possible to protect yourself and your loved ones from these hefty charges by taking out insurance here in Thailand? Definitely, and coverage varies widely depending on what you need and how much you want to pay (doesn’t it everywhere?).
Many foreign nationals living and working in Thailand legally, holding valid visas and work permits are automatically incorporated into the Thai Social Security system (http://www.sso.go.th/wpr/eng/index.html). It is mandatory for your employer to pay half of your fees while deducting the other half from your monthly paycheque. This deduction is taken as a percentage of your salary, currently 3% to a maximum of 450 THB per month, and this July (2012) it’s rising to 4% up to a maximum of 600 THB. Social security benefits include transportation to hospital, treatment and hospitalization for accident or disease (with 15 specific exceptions), kidney dialysis, bone marrow transplant, minor refunds for dental care, and compensation for lost wages (paid 50% per day for a maximum of 90 straight days).
The Social Security system naturally works with public hospitals, which in Thailand suffer from under-funding and a lack of general practitioners (most doctors are specialists). Many foreigners find that long waiting times for admittance and diagnosis, in addition to crowded wards, give public hospitals in Thailand low appeal. As well, those people outside of the working age range of 15-60 are ineligible for this insurance coverage.
When looking at insurance, there are many different packages to examine and many companies willing to offer somewhat confusing deals and few details. There are at least 35 companies licensed to sell insurance coverage to foreigners in Thailand, and what they have on offer can be broken down into coverage in certain areas.
Personal Accident Insurance = emergency coverage should you be involved in an accident, usually including transportation to hospital, hospital stay, and emergency medical treatment
Medical Insurance = coverage for general health care, for when you fall ill, as well as for chronic diseases
Life Insurance = policies that pay out to your loved ones in the event of your untimely death
Medivac / Repatriation = in case of serious illness or accident, this covers you to return to your home country to take advantage of medical care and technologies that may be seen as superior to those available in Thailand
Travel Insurance = some combination of the above types of insurance, but applicable when you travel to other countries outside of the jurisdiction of your regular coverage
Medical advances around the world have pushed up the quality of care available in Thailand. The Bangkok Hospital, for example, is reputed to be one of the best, most high-tech care facilities in all of Asia. Private hospitals also charge a lot, even up to double what subsidized care can cost in many developed western countries. Insurance benefits, on the other hand, are usually limited to small payouts of 1 million THB (roughly $33,000 USD). It’s therefore important to look at how much a policy will pay out in different situations (disease, accident, etc.).
Premiums for private health insurance can start as low as 20,000THB / year for basic packages for young, healthy expats, for example with insurers like the giant AIA. Much more comprehensive packages including accident, personal health care, and medivac for around 40,000 THB / year can be had from providers such as from BUPA, another big player on the international insurance scene.
Not only do you have to choose your provider, they also have to choose what you’re eligible for. This means a complete physical and blood-work to check if you have any chronic illnesses. If you do, you’ll automatically be offered premiums higher than the base rates. Full disclosure is still the best policy, since if it’s found out later that you have lied or covered up any health issues, your insurance contract can be immediately voided, leaving you in the lurch.
So the bottom line is to watch the bottom line, see what’s offered around town, and decide what you need to give you peace of mind.