Is a Group Health Plan Better Than an Individual Policy
If you pay attention to the job market, you’ll notice that membership in a group international insurance plan is often cited as an employment benefit. Talk about a tempting offer! Occasionally, group insurance enrollment is also listed as a perk for volunteer teams or even social clubs. But savvy spenders and health-conscious consumers might wonder – is it really a better choice than an individual health plan? Which option is better for saving money or dealing with paperwork? Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of group plans versus individual plans based on the most commonly asked questions.
More About Individual Health Insurance Plans
International health plans, also known as IPMI (International Private Medical Insurance), is coverage for a single person or a family living abroad for an extended period. Examples of eligible clients would be expatriates, seniors retiring abroad, families moving abroad or elderly parents living in another country. Individual plans come in a wide variety and often have flexible benefits that can be added or excluded based on your specific needs and budget. They can be less expensive than group plans if you do not need all the bells and whistles that a corporate plan might have included to cover the needs of a wide variety of employees.
Overview of Group International Health Insurance
Group plans are typically designed for a specified group of members, employees, volunteers, other affiliated individuals. Plans are designed to cover the needs of the majority of the group while taking into consideration the special needs of individuals as much as possible. In general, group plans can be more affordable as risks are shared across all members, especially in larger groups. Group plans may have other advantages, including more favorable treatment of pre-existing conditions and additional benefits not always available with individual plans. For companies or organizations, payment, accounting, and management are streamlined for efficiency.
A Look at How Individual plans Compare to Group Plans
Flexibility: Individual Plans (✔)
Group health plans have come a long way in terms of flexibility. There are more options than ever before. Members can have the coverage they want and the kind of services that bring them peace of mind. But for the ultimate in flexibility, nothing beats an individual insurance plan.
The customization options are endless. Clients can mix and match between different companies for the best coverage and value. You get exactly what you want and need and you don’t pay for anything that’s not of value for you. If you want comprehensive coverage for dental concerns and extra support and resources in the event of hospitalization, it’s yours. If you want preventative focused care with maternity coverage options, it’s not a problem.
Of course, there is flexibility in the initial design of a group plan. However, typically, there is one general plan that all members must subscribe to. If you do not have any special needs or concerns, a group plan will be perfectly fine for you. If your employer or group administrator is paying for it, then you should be good.
Longevity: Individual Plans (✔)
While some group health plans include coverage options after you leave, it’s usually for a limited amount of time. Individual plans and their timelines are determined by the individual. However long you want to be with a certain plan is up to you, regardless of employment or other factors. It doesn’t matter where you work – your insurance is your own. If you are older, you may want to spend a little more time doing your research as some global medical plans will expire after you reach a certain age. Working with an international insurance broker (like one of our team) will help you find the specific plan for your specific situation.
Handling of Pre-existing Conditions: Group Plans (✔)
Policies and premiums for group insurance plans assume members will have varied health issues. There will be people in superb health, there will be people with serious health concerns, and there will be a lot of people in the middle. The insurance company’s risk is mitigated by the size of the group. Rates and benefits are decided in part by the group’s size and even the industry it’s associated with.
As such, if you have a pre-existing condition, even one with a good prognosis, a group health plan will offer better value. Insurance companies are willing to take on more risk if they know they are getting a large pool of good customers along with individuals who may have existing health issues. This is one time when the ‘one size fits all’ approach really pays off. Of course, it never hurts to compare what you are offered with the rates and packages of an individual plan. In rare cases, certain companies rank some health conditions as more serious than others so perhaps your condition isn’t seen as severe as it once was. But, in general, group plans are the way to go.
Support and Responsiveness: Tie
In a health crisis, few things are more important than the support, reassurance, and organization of your insurance representative. Nobody wants to be stuck on hold, worried and distraught. Group plans come with excellent support. There are usually two levels of resources for clients. There is a person within the group, such as an HR rep, who helps clients on a local level. They have accumulated knowledge and experience over the years, making them a real asset. And there is also the insurance company itself who, to be frank, knows it is in their best interest to maintain an excellent relationship with such a large account.
However, individual plans may trump group plans in some circumstances. Group plans can be bureaucratic. They depend on having an HR rep who is organized and supportive. In a high-stress office, that might not always be the case. And the rapport that an individual can have with their insurance representative can’t be underestimated. Knowing you can call your broker without getting your office involved is valuable. If privacy is a priority, individual plans can’t be beaten.
In either scenario – choosing the right insurance company is your best bet for ensuring that you receive the service that you desire. With our agency acting as your broker, we can help you sort through each insurance company and get you the best provider for the price point you are looking to achieve.
Cost: Group Plans (✔)
Bulk discounting and diminished risk give group plans an edge when it comes to cost. Individual plans tend to cost more. Even if you are in exceptional health and a prime candidate for a low rate, it’s hard to compete with the cost savings a group plan is able to pass on to its members. But if you’re committed to choosing an individual path, don’t despair. Being an alumnus of a particular university or social group might come with deep discounts. To get started, review some of the best group global medical plans we offer.
Individual plans do offer some flexibility in that certain plans offer a modular design (see: Cigna Global) allowing you to pick and choose various benefits packages to add on or leave off. Other plans offering varying levels of coverage with more or fewer benefits per coverage period (Compare and Review Individual International Health Plans).
Ease of Use: Tie
In theory, group plans feature less hassle and less legwork. There is not much paperwork and medical exams are rare. You just sign up and that is about it. However, if you leave your group and have to start navigating the world of individual plans when you’re in your 50s, that might seem easier said than done. And you if you find the one-size-fits-all approach to a group plan leaves you with some worries about coverage gaps for your particular situation, you’re not really ahead of the game.
Individual plans require some planning and thinking ahead of time. Only you can determine how much coverage you really want and the services you really need. Time for research! But the days of complicated medical exams are dwindling. And the companies that do require them are making them easier and more convenient. And once approval is in, those on an individual plan are at an advantage. They have had to learn exactly what is and is not included. They won’t be double checking with HR about inclusions. They know their plan and they’re ready to use it. Thus, for overall long term ease of use, it is too close to call.
Regardless of whether a group plan or an individual plan is right for you, always do your research, think carefully about your healthcare needs, and take a long term approach for the best possible value.
Related – Individual Plan Links:
- Best International Health Insurance Companies
- Comprehensive Global Medical Plans
- Health Insurance When Working Abroad
- Apply for Global Medical Plans
- Overseas Insurance Coverage
International Medical Group Links and Resources
- International Corporate Group Insurance
- Missionary Group Health and Travel Insurance
- Insurance for School Groups
- Coverage for Volunteer Programs and Non-Profits
Written by Joe Cronin. Joe Cronin is an expert in the areas of global health and international insurance, with specific expertise in advising individuals and groups on international health insurance plans. Follow Joe @Joe_Cronin_Jr