How to choose the right health insurance (in less than 20 minutes)

Choosing the right health insurance plan for the first time can be quite daunting, especially when you're buying out of state obligation. For some, paying insurance premiums can feel like tossing your money into a bottomless pit, but for others in need, insurance can save lives.

So how do you know if you’ve made the right decision? How do you know you will be protected when you need it most? Here’s an easy guide to help you make a quick decision, especially when you're short on time.

1. Find out how you’re being reimbursed (10 minutes)

The first thing that you should look for is to make sure that the plan allows a simple reimbursement regime. If you are a European citizen on a short mission, studies for example, you may be exempt from buying a Swiss health insurance. However, your reimbursable amount varies from country to country. Some countries only reimburse up to the amount that is equal to the treatment cost in the home country, while others can take up to 6 months before the expatriate receives his or her reimbursement.

For instance, if a consultation only costs 35€ in France, that’s what the French government will reimburse you, even if it costs more than CHF 150 in Switzerland.

If you receive care in Switzerland, you may have to wait up to one month before you receive your medical bill in your mail box. Some health insurers may require you to pay before you are reimbursed, which can be a big headache if the amount is significant enough – expect to pay up to CHF 500 after 4 or 5 visits.

Sometimes, a health insurance plan will offer a swipe card system, where your health insurer will settle the bill directly with your doctor, allowing you to receive medical treatments without having to front any payments.

2. How much does a consultation cost locally? (5 minutes)

A deductible is the amount of money that you need to spend out of your pocket before your insurance plan starts to foot your medical bills. Deductibles can range from CHF 0 to CHF 1,000 in Switzerland. Typically, the higher your deductible is, the lower your monthly premium will be.

Before you decide on a deductible level, you need to have an idea of how much one session of consultation will cost you in the country of your residence. True, many health insurers will claim that your plan is valid worldwide, but it’s important to consider the likelihood of you going to a hospital for a planned treatment in Thailand, for example.

Your health insurance broker should be able to tell you the average cost of:

  • A simple medical consultation

  • Ambulance

  • Gynecological your country of residence!

Once you have an idea of the costs, ask yourself two questions:

  1. How many times did you see a doctor last year?

  2. When you multiple the number of visits with the cost, which level of deductible did you hit?

A good rule of thumb to remember is the lower your annual medical cost is, the higher you should choose your deductible level, so you can save up some money on your monthly premiums. On the other hand, if your answer comes close to a certain level of deductible offered on the table, it would probably be better for you to choose the level below, so you can save money overall, and have your insurance starts kicking in earlier.

For example, if you have seen a doctor twice in the last year, and the average medical consultation costs about CHF 150 in Switzerland, you would have incurred around CHF 300 had you been in Switzerland last year. In this case, you should choose the deductible level that is inferior to CHF 300 to make sure that you can start to get reimbursed sooner.

3. How much does your broker know? (5 minutes)

Many people tend to steer away from insurance brokers, for the fear that they might end up paying more premiums than necessary. They prefer to “cut the middle-man”.

Admittedly, this is a logical way of thinking for many things, but not for insurance. A good health insurance broker should be able to offer up different choices and impartial opinions, because they should hold the same contract with as many partners as possible. The health insurer is usually responsible for the costs of your broker’s service, not you.

Imagine going to a shopping mall to try out different brands of earphones before you pick the one that suits you best, instead of going directly to Dr. Dre to buy the product at exactly the same price, but with less help from a neutral party.

A good health insurance broker should be able to tell you the pros and cons of different companies and plans to help you make a decision.

Here are some questions that you can ask your broker:

  1. How much does a medial consultation cost in my country of residence?

  2. Who will be responsible for emergency evacuation or expatriation if I go with X insurance company?

  3. Which medications are not covered?

Bottom line is this…

Choosing a plan that facilitates reimbursement (or that offers a swipe card system) is an absolute must. Once you’ve found out about that, it’s useful to project how much medical bill you will incur during the time of your residence in Switzerland. Lastly, picking a good health insurance broker is very important. When you have problems with reimbursements and your medical bills, your insurance broker will be able to help you defend your interests and answer quick questions for you.

Even if you may be exempt from buying a health insurance, it may still be worthwhile for you to book an appointment with your local insurance broker. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, the more you know, the more you can save yourself from potential trouble down the line.