Australian insurers have started to provide cover for medical procedures performed overseas, as the industry is now worth $100 billion globally, according to one of Australia’s biggest comparison websites finder.com.au/travel-insurance.
Medical tourism is estimated to be growing at a rate of 20-30 percent annually and in Australia, 25,000 Australians travel overseas each year to undergo cosmetic procedures worth an estimated $300 million each year, according to experts.
Go Insurance is believed to be the first provider offering cover for dental tourism to Australian travellers and last year NIB launched a new medical tourism business offering patients a 12-month guarantee on foreign surgery if they used approved Thai hospitals and doctors.
The Dental Tourism cover by Go Insurance includes compensation for cancelled travel arrangements in the event the scheduled procedure can’t occur, emergency overseas dental treatment due to complications arising from the procedure, allowances for additional travel and accommodation in the event the policyholder has to remain overseas longer than anticipated due to complications or being deemed unfit to travel, return travel and accommodation for remedial dental treatment if the procedure is not successful.
Michelle Hutchison, Money Expert at finder.com.au, says up until last year, it was extremely rare to find any Australian insurers willing to provide cover for medical procedures overseas.
“Globally, only a handful of insurers have introduced specialist medical travel insurance cover. Going overseas for a cheaper procedure is nothing new, but we are only just starting to see Australian insurance companies jump on board to offer cover,” she said.
“The medical tourism industry is booming and cover like this can help remove some of the worry Australians may have when considering cosmetic work offshore.
“Travellers need to be aware that medical cover may not provide some of the staples of regular travel insurance cover, so seeking out additional cover and comparing travel insurance policies is crucial to ensuring you have the most suitable cover for your travel plans.
The growing trend of medical tourism
finder.com.au’s study of online search trends revealed there was a growing of interest in overseas plastic surgery from Australians.
For example, Australians searching online for breast implants in Thailand increased by 27 percent in December 2014 compared to December 2013. ‘Dental in Thailand’ was the most searched term out of all countries outside Australia for dental work in 2014, while plastic surgery in Korea is the most popular country searched.
The Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and India are all experiencing strong growth trends and the Tourism Authority of Thailand has a reported target of 10 million medical tourists by the end of 2015.
U.S. firms have also started offering medical travel insurance to Australians, hoping to cash in on a new wave of medical tourists from down under.
Custom Assurance Placements Ltd. is one company prepared to offer cover for complications for up to six months after a medical procedure performed on an Australian in another country.
Everything from breast implants to rhinoplasty could now be covered by these specialist insurers.
“What’s enticing to these medical tourists is the exotic destinations on offer, low cost treatments, pool-side recovery and the ability to have physical alterations discreetly.
“In many cases, they’re going for procedures to alter their personal appearance such as tummy-tucks, dental crowns and facelifts, though some are addressing medical needs such as knee replacements or shoulder reconstructions.
“The motive, often, is the ability to receive treatments at a much lower cost than in Australia – cosmetic surgery can be half the cost or less than in Australia,” said Mrs Hutchison.
Warning: general travel insurance still needed
Mrs Hutchison warned that medical travellers still need to consider regular travel insurance and they need to be aware that regular travel policies exclude cosmetic surgery.
“We strongly urge those headed overseas for one of these medical holidays to check the fine print when choosing travel insurance. Regular travel insurance generally won’t cover you for any cosmetic or dental work overseas so it’s worth looking into specialist policies to ensure you’re covered in case anything goes wrong.
“You still may need cover for all the regular inclusions such as baggage, theft, medical emergencies or other trip related expenses. It is definitely worth doing your research online to find out what you’re covered for.”