Navigating Health Insurance in Vietnam

Health - Saigon/HCMC: Oct. 31, 2016

Pascal Ho Ba Dam of is an insurance advisor representing a number of large health insurance companies. He caters to all types of insurance needs for expats who frequently relocate from country to country, as well as Vietnamese professionals.

His job consists of advising his clients about their health insurance needs, and telling them openly what will suit them best based on a number of factors. We sat down with him to discuss the intricacies of purchasing health insurance in a developing country.

Declaring Your Medical History

Insurance in Vietnam

When you’re shopping around for health insurance, keep in mind that you’ll have to declare your medical history with most of them. There are three ways insurers can handle this:

1. Exclusions

If you declare a previous sickness or condition, such as stomach cancer, this will not be covered by the insurance in the future, as well as any type of cancer in general. If you don’t disclose your medical history, and they find out you had something as minor as a consultation for that sickness in the past, the insurer can cancel your policy (and ask you to refund any payments they made). This actually applies to any withheld information; so if they paid you $30,000 over two to three years of treatment, and discover you withheld details about an unrelated condition, they can ask for all that money back.

2. OK to cover, but you pay extra for the extra risk

You may ask the insurer to consider covering you for your pre-existing condition, but your premium will increase by a certain percentage if that condition re-occurs.

3. No declaration.

You don’t have to declare anything, as long as for a certain period (say one or two years) you don’t get that particular sickness or condition.

Most people get sucked into the first category without realising that there are second and third options. Be sure to see what your chosen insurance allows before you jump in.

The Insurance Salesman

The salesman might never tell you the fine print. They may not tell you that “special diseases” are covered, but only if you don’t have any within the first year of your insurance package. They might also not tell you that every time you use their insurance for serious treatment, the premium increases, the amount covered decreases, and eventually you’ll have to share a percentage of the bill you’re paying, even though the brochure says you’re fully covered. Pascal recommends sending all your questions via email beforehand to get proof of what the salesman has promised. Otherwise the insurance provider may blame you for not reading the fine print.

insurance salesman

Vietnamese Health Insurance Providers & Foreign Providers

In Vietnam, you have two types of local companies: the purely Vietnamese ones, and the international groups that have representative offices established here. They are all regulated by Vietnamese law, which states that these companies may do what’s necessary to be profitable. This translates to the fact that by law, they are allowed to stop coverage for an individual at any time.

In a nutshell, the Vietnamese insurance providers can simply kick you out if they don’t see you as economically viable. The international companies charge premiums up to 500% and beyond (in extreme cases) if you’re costing them too much. It is not profitable for either group to keep you on board. If you argue, the companies can use Vietnamese laws to back up their actions.

Keep in mind that health insurance companies are meant to cover risk, not regularly occurring or chronic illnesses or conditions. That means if you have a history of cancer, they are less likely to cover you since they know it might reoccur in the future.

An insurance provider are always as good as their response to your first claim. Despite this fact, we have put a list together with the most known health insurance packages for expats in Vietnam:

1. Pacific Cross

Former Blue Cross, they have over 60 years of experience in the health and travel insurance industry in Vietnam. Their broad extensive direct billing network and their guarantee for not raising your policy rate (besides the normal yearly increase) are their main competitive advantages. They also accept foreign driver’s license for accident coverage. On the down side, they don’t cover medical expenses of any kind during their 30-day waiting period.

2. Bao Viet

The largest Vietnamese insurance company. It is state-owned and has a strategic partnership with HSBC, which also holds 18% of Bao Viet's shares. Many expats choose Bao Viet given their inexpensive policy rates for a decent coverage. You can get a very affordable plan for as cheap as 350$ a year. Disadvantages? They won’t take your foreign driver’s license (you know what comes with that), plus they don’t offer coverages for +65 years old customers

3. Liberty

Covering all types of insurance for travel and health care; they have a range of expat health packages and travel options. Their competitive edge over others is a global medical assistance by International SOS, plus their reasonable policy pricing. On top of that, there is no waiting period for special diseases. Their customer service lacks quick responses when requesting quotes and asking general inquiries about their policies

4. Manulife

In 2001, Manulife became 100% Vietnamese- owned company with the name, Manulife Company Ltd. Their head office is locaed in district 7, and they have currently expanded business to 17 office branches in 13 provinces/ cities. They offer a wide variety of packages for individuals and groups, perhaps too many as you easily get lost navigating through the many options listed on their website. The internet reviews from expats who use or have used their plans seem to be on the positive side.

What Insurance Companies Can Improve

Pascal mentions two major points that can be improved for health insurance providers in Vietnam. The first is true guaranteed renewal. This means that the provider ensures they will continue covering you when the time comes to renew the contract. Unfortunately, insurance providers do everything they can to get you off their policy if you’re costing them, like raising premiums and limiting benefits. The second point would be for hospitals not to overcharge insurances, since this is what usually makes insurances react with higher premiums.

Wrapping it Up

As Pascal puts it: “Healthcare in Vietnam is not cheap. Insurance is cheap, but doesn’t protect you much.” While not all bad, remember to read your preferred health insurance provider’s fine print and get all the facts straight before you dive in; and it always helps to know someone if you get yourself into an emergency situation.