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Health care for new families: an international guide

Balancing work and family life

Many of us will face the challenge of nurturing a young family and developing a career simultaneously. While the average age at which women have their first child differs around the world, a recent study found that most people start their families between the ages of 18 and 30. The fact that this roughly corresponds with the decade that could define your future career, suggests a delicate balance needs to be struck between the demands of work and family life.

Should you have to choose between a great career opportunity and the possibility of family life in the future? What if you already have young children to consider?

If a great opportunity also involves a move abroad, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the prospect of starting family life in a new country. Many expats are concerned about how their professional, personal, and financial wellbeing will be affected by a move to a new country, particularly when it comes to keeping their family safe and healthy.

Care and concern is perfectly natural. Thinking ahead to the health risks you may encounter is an important first step in avoiding them. But, with careful planning and preparation, there’s no reason to pass up the exciting chance to live and work in another country. By doing a little homework, and seeking out the right advice, you can help protect the health of your family anywhere in the world.

Regional variations in prenatal and paediatric care

Attitudes to pregnancy and childbirth can vary dramatically around the globe. First, you will want to find out about any specific regional or national approaches that might affect your birth plans.

In America, for instance, almost 100% of all births will take place in a hospital, with close monitoring and the possibility of medical intervention being consistent options throughout pregnancy and labour. As a consequence, the U.S. has a higher rate of births via caesarean section than some countries. It’s worth noting this is part of a worldwide trend and elective caesareans are a common option in many countries, including China and parts of the Middle East.

Across most European countries, the common aim is to provide mothers with a range of choices, which are discussed in advance with a health care professional to create a birth plan. In reality, there’s still a wide variation in approach across individual countries. The fluctuations in the number of home births provide a good example. In the UK, they constitute as little as 2-3% of all births. In the Netherlands, it’s closer to 30% — demonstrating the marked differences that can still occur across relatively similar cultures.

In some countries, birth options are shaped by both culture and religion. In the UAE, for example, you must be married before you can give birth in the country. You may also find you have fewer options for the birth itself. For example, all babies are delivered in a hospital, as home births are legally not permissible in the UAE.

While this is only a small selection of the many regional differences that can occur, what these examples do show is the need to consider your options before you emigrate. Gathering this sort of information before you go will help you to distinguish between impartial advice and longstanding cultural tradition. Luckily, you can always turn to experienced health care professionals, midwives and specialists to guide you through the specific process.

Getting help and advice

Making sure you have comprehensive international private medical insurance (iPMI) in place before you emigrate is essential for any expat. If you’re considering starting a family once you’re out there, you’ll also want to seek advice on maternity care to find what is, and isn’t, covered. For example, many global medical insurers require members or dependents to have a policy in place for at least 12 months before they become eligible for maternity cover. The costs associated with maternity care can vary considerably, so making sure you’re covered for the care you need will help you protect both your family’s health and your financial wellbeing.

At Aetna International, we offer comprehensive health care plans for families and, following a 10 or 12 month waiting period, depending on the chosen plan, women can begin claiming for pre-natal or maternity care. You can choose between three levels of maternity cover based on your individual needs. All our plans make sure you’re covered for antenatal check-ups and vitamins, a routine ultrasound, the costs for the pregnancy, and the cost of transport to the nearest appropriate medical facilities in the event of an emergency.

We’ll also be there throughout your pregnancy, with useful support and advice. This includes pre-trip planning — helping you to become familiar with your new health care environment before you go.

Caring for young children while living abroad

You know life will change once your baby arrives. You’ll need to plan for how your little one’s health needs will change over time, as they grow from a newborn into a child. Much like attitudes to pregnancy and birth, access to paediatric care can vary from country to country. Make sure you do some research before you go, particularly if you already have young children who’ll be emigrating with you.

Routine vaccinations for infants and children have played an important role in reducing the incidence of certain conditions. While vaccination against certain illnesses is standard practice in most countries, you’ll still find differences in what’s considered routine. For example, in the U.S. and Australia the chicken pox vaccine is recommended but is not commonly offered in the U.K.

You’ll need to check which vaccinations you and your family will need, and want, to receive before you enter the country. It’s also a good idea to make sure that you take an up-to-date vaccination record for your child with you.

Planning for emergencies

When it comes to accessing the emergency services or seeking treatment in a critical situation, the best way to ensure peace of mind is to do some research before you travel. No one likes to think about a child becoming injured or ill, but understanding what to do in the event can make you feel calmer and more prepared.

If a medical problem arises, you need to make sure you know how to seek the appropriate help. Dr. Lori Stetz, Aetna International Senior Medical Director, recommends having a three-stage plan in place before you travel:

“Know where to go if it’s an urgent emergency — such as a bad accident or life-threatening injury; a moderate emergency — such as a twisted ankle; or a routine health event – such as a cough that doesn’t go away.”

Once again, medical provision in local health care systems differs from region to region. The variation in antibiotic prescription we see across different countries is a good example of disparities in treatment. Being aware of these in advance could help you to avoid unnecessary clashes with health care professionals — who may not always adopt the approach you’re used to.

Making sure you’re covered

While the health and wellbeing of your family is your primary concern, you also need to plan for the costs that may be associated with health care in different countries.

At Aetna International, we offer family friendly medical insurance options so you always have access to the right health care for you. We also help with the potential costs by offering a healthy behaviours’ discount to Aetna Pioneer 4000, 5000 and 5000+ members who adopt a range of healthy habits. On some plans, members pay for one child and get free cover for every alternate child, for children up to age 17 — making sure you all stay protected as your family grows.

Accessing maternity and family care

Aetna International can support your family’s health by making sure they always have access to the care they need. Our Care and Response Excellence (CARE) team is on hand 24/7, 365 days a year to help organise:

  • Access to treatment or specialist care as quickly as possible. By priming the hospital prior to your arrival, and making sure they bill us directly, we aim to protect you from as much unnecessary stress as possible. 
  • Treatment preauthorisation so you’re covered for any proposed treatment before you receive it — helping you to avoid unwanted financial surprises.

And we aren’t just here for the emergencies. We can also help you with:

  • Pre-trip planning, including coordinating appointments and making sure you have ongoing access to medications, plus arranging any continuing care you may need.
  • Pharmacy shipping solutions, making it easy to receive the medications you need. 
  • Everyday practical support and counselling for employees or their family members experiencing stressful situations through our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). 
  • Adding children and dependents to many of our policies — making sure each family member receives the same level of care and support. If you receive your coverage though work, and want to add a newborn to an existing policy, all you need to do is contact your employer within 30 days of the birth and submit an enrolment/change request form.

Remember, if you’re considering emigrating with older children aged 16 or above, they are usually considered adults and can choose enrolment into an individual health care plan that keeps their health information private. You may find the age at which dependants are considered adults varies from country to country, based on the regulations of the country in which the policy was started.

Planning for family health care abroad

We all know that pregnancy and childcare can be stressful — whether you’re first-time parents anxious about what to expect, or you’ve been through it all before.

Preparing for a move to another country while your family is growing can easily make you feel overwhelmed. There’s so much to organise, it’s tempting to focus on the immediate tasks, such as packing and paperwork.

Unfortunately, this can mean that longer-term concerns, such as health care and birth planning, are left to one side.

With a little careful research and some impartial advice, it’s reasonably simple to find out about your health care options before you make the move. Being properly prepared is the best way to ensure your peace of mind — leaving you free to enjoy the excitement of starting family life in your new home.

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