by Marion Fabregoul, Insurer Relationship and Strategy Marketing Manager of Mercer Marsh Benefits Singapore

This article was originally published on Dollars & Sense on 17 September 2020.

International private medical insurance coverage is more essential than ever for those who are living overseas during the pandemic.

The reality of living in a world now fraught with a health pandemic has caused expats, Singaporeans and their families to reconsider how best to protect themselves and their families in the event of a critical illness, accidents and even contracting COVID-19 – a heightened risk as travel becomes a possibility again.

While many employees have access to corporate medical plans, too often, many real costs are passed on to individuals who are not adequately covered. This is especially true when healthcare in bigger cities like Singapore can come with a hefty price tag. So how do you bridge the gap to ensure that your biggest asset – your health – is sufficiently protected?

This is where International Private Medical Insurance (IPMI) can provide a complementary layer of protection and financial peace of mind for life’s uncertainties.

What is international private medical insurance (IPMI)

Many employees in Singapore will have access to basic corporate medical plans from their employers, typically covering reimbursements for general medical expenses including in-hospital costs and specialist consultations on an as-charged basis. Many of these local schemes do not provide complete cover and have imposed limits and co-pay arrangements which can have a material financial impact for individuals and their families if they suffer from major medical conditions.

IPMI provides complementary coverage for individuals and their families while they are living abroad or travelling for extended periods of time by offering more comprehensive features that a domestic-oriented policy might not cover.

For example, the Mercer Marsh Benefits IPMI aims to deliver the best possible health protection to suit individual circumstances. Its plans cover, but are not limited to:


  • Accidents and emergencies
  • Elective treatment
  • Treatment within the country of residence or any country that you are travelling to within your chosen area of cover and cover level limits
  • Cancer care
  • Maternity care

While IPMI tends to be more popular among expats and permanent residents, Singaporeans who travel overseas often can also find it more robust than travel insurance, which can fall short in certain situations.

Closing the coverage gap

Many people tend to live in a world of health optimism, hoping they will not get sick rather than ensuring they have invested in the right health coverage. However, the shock of discovering the cost of treatment is undeniable and the coverage gaps can be wide.


Corporate plans vs IPMI: the coverage gap
Typical corporate coverage plans cover* Mercer Marsh Benefit’s IPMI covers
Overall limit of $18,000 at public hospitals Overall limit of $2 million at any private hospital worldwide, excluding USA
Daily cover of $130 for room and board Daily single room and board, paid in full
ICU treatment cost of $10,000 per disability All ICU costs, up to the overall plan limit
$20,000 cancer care, per policy per annum Cancer care is paid in full, up to the overall plan limit
Source: Mercer Singapore

*N.B. Median hospitalisation & surgery plans offered by employers across sectors in Singapore, source Singapore Health & Benefits Study 2019.


The gaps between employer corporate plans and IPMI can be significant. Having IPMI enables people to focus on getting better rather than having to stress on where the money for their treatments will be coming from to cover their out of pocket expenses.


Here are examples of three out of pocket costs for common medical treatments that are not fully covered by basic insurance:


Cancer treatment: One in every four people in Singapore may develop cancer in their lifetime and as treatment options improve, the number of people living with cancer will continue to increase. For example, the medical costs associated with late-stage colon cancer treatment is on average, $135,000 a year. Typically, employee medical insurance only covers up to $20,000 of this. Without comprehensive coverage, cancer survivors may struggle to cover the balance of the costs.


Uncovered maternity costs: Bringing a new life into the world is a joyous occasion. It is prudent to protect the health of the mother and her unborn child without unanticipated costs. An emergency c-section and complications in pregnancy could cost as much as $22,000 out of pocket.


Knee replacement: Undergoing knee replacement surgery with reconstruction and repairing ligaments can leave individuals out of pocket $12,000 to $16,000 without IPMI.


Finally, as Singapore slowly reopens its borders and people begin to travel again, IPMI provides comfort to policy holders who are fearful of contracting COVID-19 in Singapore or while travelling abroad. With IPMI, policy holders will be able to seek treatment not only in their country of residence but also in the countries that are within their policy’s area of coverage.

The case for IPMI

In times of uncertainty, individuals and their families cannot afford to leave their health to chance and risk exposing themselves to not being comprehensively covered in the event of a medical emergency.


With employers finding it increasingly difficult to provide general medical packages with adequate coverage to keep pace with general inflation, it is becoming important to close the gap with complementary health coverage with the right IPMI so you know you’re in safe hands, no matter what life throws at you.

Mercer Marsh Benefits provides clients with a single source for managing the costs, people risks, and complexities of employee benefits.