Providing Medical Coverage to Globally Mobile Employees: Three Options

What happens when an employee of a U.S. company suffers injuries in a car accident while working in the U.K. or needs emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix while on assignment in Brazil?

Would he or she have the right medical plan to cover the medical expenses?

Providing Medical Coverage to Globally Mobile Employees: Three Options

More and more companies are sending their employees to work outside of the U.S. and exposing them to unpredictable circumstances, including physical hazards and health and safety threats. In her article “The Ins and Outs of Providing Medical Coverage to a Globally Mobile Workforce” in the January issue of Benefits Magazine, Lisa Burkard, CEBS, explains that multinational employers have a legal, fiduciary and moral duty to protect the health and safety of globally mobile employees. Burkard is managing director of Spectrum Group Consulting Services, LLC, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Burkard writes that many multinational employers expect their home medical plan to extend to the host location, but that is not always the case. Instead, employers may need to choose a health insurance program specifically for global employees.

The three main coverage options for providing medical coverage to globally mobile employees are:

1. Emergency Travel Medical Insurance Plans

Key features:

  • Limited to emergency medical services
  • Used for business travel or assignments that require employees to be outside of their home location for fewer than 180 days
  • Employees remain covered under their home location medical plan.
  • Coverage is not comprehensive. It is used only in the event of a medical emergency while traveling on company business. It is generally inexpensive and easy to secure and implement.

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2. Supplemental Top-Up Plans

Key features:

  • Designed to supplement medical coverage provided by the host country social insurance system
  • Employers can closely replicate the type and level of coverage provided in the home location.
  • These are typically less expensive than a global medical plan because they provide medical coverage over and above the coverage provided by the government social system.

3. Global or Regional Medical Plans

Key features:

  • Designed to meet the unique needs of employees (and their accompanying family members) who are working outside their home locations for periods longer than 180 days
  • Replaces the coverage employees had in their home location
  • Provides comprehensive health benefits as well as ancillary benefits such as dental and vision coverage
  • This kind is more expensive; employers may seek to reduce costs by excluding certain countries from coverage if they do not do business or have employees travel to those countries.

Related Reading: Global Health Plan Risks Following Domestic Trends

Medical coverage can be a large component of a global mobility program, Burkard writes. “ . . . [It] is also one of the most important aspects of the program due to the significant and personal impact on employees and their accompanying family members.”

Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS
Kathy Bergstrom, CEBS
Senior Editor, Publications, at the International Foundation

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