Health risk

Medical insurance in schools post COVID-19

Covid-19 has challenged so many assumptions about teaching overseas. One pressure point is the provision of adequate medical insurance, as Rachel Thorpe reports.

The adventure

Teaching overseas has always been considered an adventure, but it’s also a career path that can enable teachers to set themselves up for life financially, should they return to their home country.  Having attended numerous international school recruitment fairs over the last 20 years, it’s clear to me that salary and the location of a school have been the key factors when making choices about which offers to accept, with the quality of housing not far behind.   However, it seems to me, given the current global crisis, that the quality of additional employee benefits, especially with regard to medical insurance, is about to jump in importance as recruitment for 2021 – 22 gets underway.

Ensuring continuity in uncertain times

Why? Because expat faculty will start to look at the way a school has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and question whether insurance will be sufficient – either to stay in place, or to accept a new job.  It is evident that they should be evaluating the level of cover offered to faculty in order to recruit and retain the best teachers.

How schools choose to respond to the further challenges of the pandemic will surely dictate the calibre of teacher they attract, and the number that they will retain. More teachers than ever will actively question the quality of their school-provided medical insurance and will also be looking at the way a school has responded to the Covid-19 crisis in terms of medical cover. Here’s what they might find.

  1. You’re on your own’

Sadly, many schools have not responded to the crisis in the way one would have hoped. A number have more or less said ‘you’re on your own’ They tend not to provide health insurance for staff, and so it is up to each employee to make his or her own arrangements, ensuring that they meet the country’s government requirements. Such schools tend to be lower paying private schools run purely to make a profit though often based in desirable locations. On the salaries they receive, their teachers cannot afford to buy their own cover, and when they do, it is usually not fit for purpose.

  1. You are not covered there

This year, many teachers were evacuated from countries where medical facilities wouldn’t/couldn’t cope with a COVID-19 outbreak. With rising costs of medical cover many schools restricted the area of coverage for medical treatment. With teachers outside their normal area of cover through no fault of their own, schools reacted in two ways:

  • Paid more to provide global coverage for teachers stuck around the world
  • Asked teachers to find their own insurance whilst they were out of their host country

Praise where praise is due: many of the brand name international insurers extended coverage to teachers stuck outside their area of coverage for COVID -19, at no extra cost. This would have provided at least some level of comfort to those who were stranded in high risk hotspots. Other teachers were less lucky, and the cost of medical cover added to their growing sense of uncertainty.

  1. You can’t go home

As the pandemic developed, many teachers were forced to stay where they were, as the school’s medical benefits did not allow them to return, had they decided to leave the country for a break.  In effect, the school’s policy did not meet the country’s minimum levels for returning. Here are two typical responses. In School 1, teachers were asked to purchase individual polices to ensure they could return.  In School 2 the level of cover was increased by the school to ensure their teachers could return to work. Which school are you? Which school would you prefer to work for?

  1. Don’t worry, you are covered

Of course, there were and are many schools that provide their teachers with exceptional insurance for both employees and dependents, by which they are covered no matter where they are and no matter what the medical condition. This is ideally the kind of health insurance staff need to have, both from a school and individual perspective.

Going forward

As schools stabilize, they face a choice about staff benefits, weighing up known advantages and the costs of benefits. So far as insurance is concerned, they have to decide what level of risk they are prepared to tolerate as well as the cost they are willing to pay. However, not working hard to mitigate risk within the parameters that can be afforded should not be an option for any school.

So, what of the future as the recruitment season for 2021 – 22 approaches? Here are some ideas, for both teachers and schools that might help remove some of the current uncertainty:

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Tips for teachers considering a move

  • Request full details of your health insurance policy before you sign any contract
  • Check the area of cover that you’re insured for
  • Confirm whether ‘pre-existing conditions’ are covered
  • Ask if pandemics are covered (COVID-19 won’t be the last!)
  • Should you sign a contract during a pandemic, ensure the health policy provides cover if travel restrictions affect or prevent international movement

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As a teacher, you might also consider the following:

  1. Request a quote for individual health insurance in advance as part of your job search initiative.
  2. If a school’s general package looks good, but the insurance lags behind, consider purchasing your own individual health insurance policy with a ‘high deductible’ from an A rated provider. The right plan can be an affordable option that will give you peace mind that you would be fully covered in a pandemic or medical emergency.. As the name suggests, the deductibles are higher than those for a traditional plan, and you will need to pay off your substantial annual deductible before your insurance provider will start paying for any of your health expenses.  However, you would now have this as a fall back in an emergency situation or if the worst happened and you were diagnosed with a serious medical condition which you simply could not afford to treat if you were not covered,
  3. For as little as just under 120 USD per month, a 34-year-old expat living in Asia could purchase an A rated health insurance inpatient plan that would cover pandemics, medical emergencies as well as acute medical conditions. The plan would provide full cover for inpatient treatment with the reassurance that if medical evacuation were required you would be flown to the nearest medical centre of excellence for treatment.

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When planning, consider the following:

  1. Ensure you have a good relationship with your broker.  A good broker will understand needs, concerns and budget.  They will negotiate on your behalf for improvements to your plan. They are in a competitive world and you might be able to cover a wider series of situations than you think for the same cost. Upgrades might also be possible for a smaller cost than you thought.
  2. Conduct a ‘blind analysis’ of your school’s claims history. Then, with your provider, explore deductibles and excesses in order to spread the load. It’s surprising how much a premium is affected by multiple claims for small amounts involving a doctor’s visit that is routine, part of the cost of which an individual can easily afford.
  3. Shop around – to strengthen your hand, but also to find alternatives.
  4. Above all else, be transparent with staff. If you are changing anything, do it in good time and explain everything. Most people will accept a change if they understand the need and believe the school is doing all that it can to address their needs.



Rachel Thorpe is Senior Vice President and Employee Benefits Consultant at Tygate

Before becoming involved in insurance, Rachel was an international teacher, specialising in specific learning difficulties and curriculum development.

If you need advice as an individual or as a school, Rachel can be contacted on +44 7702621114 (UK mobile) or by email at


Feature Image: by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Support Images: by ElasticComputeFarm, fernando zhiminaicela and Quinn Kampschroer from Pixabay