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Relocating internationally: the value of pre-trip planning

A new life abroad should be a positive, rewarding experience whether you're moving overseas for a change of lifestyle, or taking an international employment assignment.

But if you have an on-going medical condition or want to make sure you have access to the best health and wellness support once you've made the move, you'll want to make sure you've done some research beforehand. Failing to do some planning before your move could put your health, and the success of your assignment or relocation, at risk. Find out how Aetna International’s pre-trip planning expertise delivers organisational excellence prior to your trip, preparing for your needs now and in the future. And, if you're an employer that sends employees on overseas assignments, we can help you ensure your employee is set up for success.

What is pre-trip planning?

When you’re making a big move, there’s lots of planning involved. From accommodation and schools to travel arrangements and packing, there are so many details to consider. If you’re in good health, it might seem overly prudent to plan for the worst. But ensuring your health needs will be taken care of before you arrive, and before a problem arises, helps minimise stress and guarantees you can get the care you need when you need it.

“Respondents rated medical preparedness as the third most important service when it comes to embarking on an international assignment”

For those with existing health conditions and concerns, pre-trip planning could be vital to your well-being when you reach your destination. Knowing the medications, specialists, equipment and services you need are available, and that all the necessary arrangements have been taken care of, gives you peace of mind. Embark on your relocation safe in the knowledge that your health care needs, and those of your family, are taken care of.

Why is it so important?

In a 2015 study undertaken by the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), 2,704 expatriate employees on assignments in 156 countries were surveyed. Respondents rated medical preparedness as the third most important service when it comes to embarking on an international assignment. It came behind general relocation services and settling-in services, emphasising just how crucial it is that employers provide health care planning, and that individuals give their health care the same attention. Despite this, only 62% of respondents said their employer offered this service.

At Aetna International, our private medical insurance experts provide comprehensive support for employers and employees involved in foreign assignments. That support begins long before an assignment starts with our Care and Response Excellence (CARE) team’s pre-planning program. This can be especially useful for those employees managing a long-term condition, immediate health complications, or a family member’s relocation concerns.

What could go wrong?

Pre-planning cannot predict the future, but it can help to mitigate the impact of any potential health issues that may arise, seeking solutions to meet a member’s needs before they’re required. By covering all the bases, both employee and employer can have confidence that a placement won’t fail because of a lack of health care provisions. And in some cases, this might influence an employer’s decision on an employee’s suitability for a particular placement.

Let’s take the case of Steven*, a 71 year old man on a missionary assignment in Indonesia, who had not taken the precaution of utilising Aetna International’s pre-trip planning service. During his time there, Steven suffered a serious fracture, which was unable to be treated in Indonesia. The 71-year-old is also morbidly obese, and the facilities in Indonesia weren't equipped to handle a man of his size. This meant evacuating him, along with his family, to Singapore which has facilities better able to cope with Steven's particular health care needs. After being treated it became apparent that suitable follow-up care for Steven’s long-term rehabilitation was not possible in Indonesia or a neighbouring country. He was then transported back home to the United States to continue his recovery.

Negative outcomes

The cost of care

With no risk assessment or planning carried out, the final bill for Steven’s care was approximately $750,000. Despite having private medical insurance, this unexpected financial burden affected his plan sponsor’s insurance premium. The emotional stress of the situation has also had an impact on Steven's family.

Assignment over

With the necessary care unavailable, and the mounting costs of transport and treating Steven’s injuries, the lack of planning in this case had a direct effect on the assignment’s outcome. Steven was forced to return home to recover from his injury, rather than being able to access the appropriate health care while abroad.

Return on investment

From the employer’s perspective, ensuring Steven’s health and well-being was paramount. But, by not pre-planning, they left themselves wide-open to a curtailed placement, reducing their return on investment.

The benefits of planning ahead

A 2016 paper, published in the International Journal of Business and Management, explores some of the many reasons that international assignments fail. The most common reasons cited for expatriates not staying abroad for the planned duration of their placement include: adjustment problems, dissatisfaction with quality of life, and inadequate support for the employee and their family while overseas. For more on why assignments fail and how to avoid it, click here.

According to the 2015 National Foreign Trade Council survey mentioned above, the number one concern of expatriates when it comes to health care is being able to access the services they need. That’s where pre-planning can make all the difference. This issue affects the majority of people who choose to take a placement abroad — 79% of respondents, or their family members, accessed medical care while on assignment, and 75% said they accessed local providers for their routine medical care.

Provision and protection

Our pre-trip planning support includes establishing each member’s individual needs to build up a complete picture of their lifestyle and health care requirements, as well as their eligible family members. We join the dots, planning for immediate requirements and anticipating potential future needs. This allows the employer and the member to make sure that the placement location will have the infrastructure and treatment options necessary for a successful assignment. This in turn instills confidence in the member.

One successful example of this in action involved a member, David*, who has type 2 diabetes. He was planning to work offshore for periods of up to six weeks at a time on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The job would involve working in shift patterns with an irregular and unpredictable eating schedule. David contacted Aetna International prior to his new role, concerned about how to handle his condition. We were able to provide advice on managing his diet, and we arranged six-week stockpiles of his medication in advance. In this instance, and in the case of many chronic conditions, forward planning was vital to the member’s health while on assignment.

Another pre-planning issue that our team often faces is helping members who suffer from sleep apnoea. This fairly common condition doesn’t prevent people from taking overseas assignments, so long as it is controlled using a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. In one case, Marco*, a member on assignment in Honduras needed to access supplies for his machine. Our Care and Response Excellence (CARE) team, located the CPAP machine distributor in Miami, and arranged for the supplies to be shipped directly to the member once he had arrived in San Pedro Sula. This seamless service meant a lot to the member, who otherwise might not have been able to travel or accept the assignment.

Assistance when you need it most

Whether you’re concerned about which medications you can bring into your destination country and if you can get prescription refills locally, or you need to find a suitable physician for yourself or your partner, our 24/7 year-round service includes:

  • a detailed pre-trip planning programme, including information about the health care system in your destination country
  • guidance about the nearest medical centres and what to do in the case of an emergency
  • a health assessment prior to departure to check for potential problems
  • help with shipping medications
  • medical support for chronic conditions
  • help arranging well-being programmes in your destination country.

In addition to the above, once you’ve relocated, and providing your private medical insurance plan gives you access to our Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAP is available to support any stress-related or mental health issues you may have. EAP is just a phone call away to answer any queries you have. From medical claims and advice, to concerns about your new life abroad, we’re here to help at all hours of the day. And, Aetna Security Assistance in partnership with crisis response management experts at WorldAware (Please note that this service is now provided by Crisis 24 - 04/2021)), provides you access to the security advice and assistance you need to stay safe — such as global security alerts, security briefings and more.

You can’t plan for every eventuality, but with pre-trip planning we can make sure your and your family’s health care and well-being needs are considered and covered for your entire expatriate assignment. If you would like more information about relocating abroad, take a look at our library, where you’ll find more useful articles.

Employers and brokers can find out more about our services by contacting an expert advisor in your region or find out more about our plans here.

Aetna® is a trademark of Aetna Inc. and is protected throughout the world by trademark registrations and treaties.

* Names have been changed to protect the privacy of our staff and members.

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