Imagine you’re the operations manager for a large and successful company based in the U.S.  You could also be a benefits manager, HR manager or General Counsel. Following is a day in the life ...

After months of lengthy negotiations, your company was just awarded a lucrative global contract with a multinational customer and it is decided that a small and select group of senior managers will need to go to Tokyo for a few weeks to work on the implementation plan. One of your company’s management team members, Frank Wilson, decides to bring his family with him along for the trip.

Frank’s son has asthma so they packed his prescription inhaler along with Actifed and another allergy type over-the-counter medicine that contains Pseudoephedrine. Upon customs and immigration at Narita Airport in Tokyo, the medicines are confiscated and Frank is detained by Japanese authorities without bail and interrogated.

Around the same time, it’s decided that John Smith, a Silicon Valley-based mid-level executive, will be expatriated to Saudi Arabia for the next six months. When John arrives in Saudi Arabia, he shows immigration officials his U.S. insurance ID card and a copy of a U.S. insurance certificate evidencing coverage.  John is unaware of a new law that was passed in Saudi Arabia in July of 2014 that requires local insurance coverage and is rejected at immigration.

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Mary Jane, one of your company’s most senior and valued executives, has been on assignment in the Czech Republic for the past six months. She entered the country on a visa that she obtained from the Czech Consulate in New York and has retained her U.S. benefits while her family remains home back in Dallas. In addition, Mary’s project has run slightly longer than anticipated and she has attempted to renew her visa for an additional one-two weeks.

Unfortunately, it was rejected. Mary was informed that she needed to have “Travel Insurance” from a locally licensed Czech insurer and further learns that the application of Czech law varies based on the length of stays in the Czech Republic and citizenship. 

Mary is then involved in a very serious car accident and has been rushed to the hospital. Her husband catches the first available plane to Prague, his fear heightened since he knows nothing about the hospital or Prague’s health care system. He begs that you intervene and asks you to evacuate her back to the U.S. for care.

You are uncertain whether you have coverage for medical evacuations, to what extent HIPAA forms are required for you to intervene, and/or if there are additional local requirements in Prague, but you spring into action.

Work continues within your company with most people being unaware of what is happening. You haven’t thought much about insurance until now as you have had a decent U.S. self-funded plan that is very cost-efficient and works well for your U.S. employees “in” the U.S.

As you’ve assumed these were all taken care of, you haven’t given much thought at all, to be honest, about an entire range of issues including: duty or care or evacuation coverage or security, prescription laws, travel trackers, or the legal and regulatory environment regarding health insurance and claim payments. Until now. The predicament is that your “now” is primarily reactive, and comes far too late in the process. 

Whether it is one of the aforementioned scenarios listed above, or one of the many others that is occurring today (e.g., Ebola outbreaks in Africa; terrorist bombings in Israel; Somalia or Afghanistan; civil unrest and clashes in the Ukraine; ISIS threats in Europe or Mexico; natural disasters; or a routine expatriate assignment to any number of countries that have insurance restrictions or immigration requirements), the most experienced international benefits operators know that careful advance planning, and the utilization of customized compliant international insurance products, is the best course of action to ensure your company, and your employees, are adequately protected.

In this four-part series, we’ll be examining some key insurance and regulatory considerations and questions that every employer must keep top-of-mind when sending colleagues into a complex, dangerous, unpredictable world.

Brian P. Iaia, Esq., is General Counsel with UnitedHealthcare International

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