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Vietnam Health Insurance


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The second-largest exporter of rice in the world, the densely populated Socialist Republic of Vietnam, with an estimated 90.5 million inhabitants sits on a coastal stretch in Southeast Asia, sharing land borders with Cambodia, China and Laos. Blessed by nature, the country is bursting with historical, culinary and cultural attractions, beautiful vistas, spectacular white-sand beaches, bountiful rice fields and mountainous regions. Visitors can experience the spiritual and cultural heart of Vietnam, its tombs and temples, palaces and pagodas and be welcomed by a graciously hospitable people. The climate changes with the geography across its total land area of 331,210 square kilometers, being tropical in the south and monsoonal in the north which experiences a hot, rainy season and a warm, dry season. Linguistically diverse, Vietnamese is designated for official use however English is progressively being favoured as a second language. Some Chinese and French are spoken and several local dialects are also used.

Despite Vietnamese Government statistics depicting that the country’s labour force grows by more than one million every year, the country has a low unemployment rate the envy of many countries in the developed world, sustained by an economy dominated by government entities, responsible for producing approximately 40 percent of GDP. Along with rice, Vietnam’s main exports also include seafood, coffee, clothing, electronics and crude oil. Rapid economic growth has encouraged significant urban migration and higher living standards in Vietnam, although environmental degradation is of concern in the capital, Hanoi and major cities due to growing urban industrialization. Significant increases year-on-year of visitor arrivals has encouraged the tourism industry to focus on expanding activities and infrastructure, however regardless of where one travels in Vietnam, be it in the cities or off the beaten track, individuals can be exposed to a variety of health risks, especially in the remote and mountainous regions. For this reason, it is prudent to arrange a comprehensive international medical insurance policy in order to guarantee access to a standard of care otherwise unavailable or unaffordable in Vietnam.

Vietnam Health Care and Insurance

The public healthcare system is overseen by Vietnam’s Ministry of Health (MOH), which is responsible for managing the network and delivery of provincial, district and community health services. Primary, secondary and tertiary care is delivered via village health workers, health centers, general and specialized hospitals. Although investment in upgrading infrastructure has resulted in some improvement in key health indicators, Vietnam faces many challenges in providing equitable access to quality healthcare and responding to the changing needs of its rapidly urbanizing and emerging middle-class population. Despite the country having better health indicators than many with similar income levels, the quality of services can vary significantly depending on where an individual requires treatment. In the major cities, international health clinics provide an acceptable level of care for minor injuries and illnesses however adequate care can be difficult to access in rural areas, where communicable diseases still present a major public health risk, and the distribution of services and medical personnel is inequitable. Regardless of where treatment is provided in Vietnam, immediate payment in cash is expected.

A national Vietnam health insurance scheme is available, providing both obligatory and voluntary insurance coverage. Contributing to the scheme is mandatory for salaried employees, and employers also contribute a percentage of employee wages. Free medical insurance is provided for children under the age of six. Despite this scheme being in place, the majority of medical treatment is still paid in cash at the preference of hospitals wanting to avoid additional paperwork and reimbursement delays, which inevitably accompany the national scheme. In reality, the system dictates that more attention and better care is awarded to those who pay cash, and consequently limits access and the quality of care for those who cannot. Due mainly to this much larger role and the benefits associated with out-of-pocket expenditures, health insurance coverage is low, at approximately 30 percent of the population. The country has a relatively large health workforce however the distribution of workers and their level of skill are major constraints to delivery of services. Specialists, nursing staff, pharmacists and hospital management personnel are all in short supply.

Overcrowding of tertiary facilities is a problem, as patients with minor ailments bypass primary care due to perceived inadequacies of the public system. The challenges involved in using public healthcare and a growing middle-class have resulted in an increase in demand for private sector care. A large number of private hospitals and clinics operate, concentrated in the main cities and staffed by highly-skilled professionals who have abandoned the public system in preference of higher incomes. As is generally consistent with private medical care abroad, the cost of treatment is considerable therefore consideration should be given to purchasing an expatriate health insurance policy, to offset such costs.

While improvements in national health indicators have been realized in heavily populated areas such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, remote and rural areas have not experienced such improvements, struggling with limited medical facilities and supplies. Health statistics for rural areas lag significantly behind those for urban areas, especially in relation to achieving the country’s Millennium Development Goals. The UN Population Fund for example reports maternal mortality at 411 deaths per 100,000 live deliveries for ethnic minorities living in remote regions where the majority of women deliver at home without the attendance of skilled personnel. This is compared to urban-dwelling Vietnamese and an overall maternal mortality rate of 56 deaths per 100,000 live deliveries. Estimated life expectancy in Vietnam is 69 years for men and 72 years for women.

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Expatriates and Travelers in Vietnam

Vietnam Travel Insurance Concerns

According to travel advisories, the single greatest risk to an individual’s health and safety in Vietnam is a traffic-related accident. This is the leading cause of death, injury and emergency medical evacuation for foreigners in Vietnam. Statistics show that approximately 1,000 such deaths occur each month, with motorbike riders and pedestrians the most common victims. Injuries prompting emergency evacuation often include severe head trauma. Driving can be hazardous as vehicles are often poorly maintained, riders frequently travel against the flow of traffic, cities are congested, road rules are routinely ignored and traffic violations seldom enforced. Driving after dark is particularly dangerous due to poorly lit roads and large vehicles travelling at high speed without lights. Extra caution is required in the countryside, as livestock and pedestrians are forced to share the road. Emergency services are theoretically available nationwide by contacting 113 for police, 114 for fire or 115 for ambulance, however emergency services are considered unreliable, and have a narrow scope of trauma care. Given the likelihood an emergency evacuation or repatriation is required for severe injury in the event of an accident, arranging an international medical insurance policy is prudent to avoid being forced to remain in the country for medical care or treatment becoming an undue financial burden.

A high level of personal safety awareness should be maintained as Southeast Asia, including Vietnam has a heightened threat of terrorism, with little warning of a deteriorating security situation. Places of worship, recreational events, public establishments and areas frequented by foreigners could potentially become targets, and caution is advised. Petty crime, particularly in the larger cities is increasing. Pedestrians are at risk of bag-snatching from motorcycle-mounted criminals, and some such cases have resulted in injury. Public transport, markets and shopping centers are common places for bag-slashing and thievery. Former battlefields along the Laos border and in central Vietnam are of risk due to unexploded landmines, therefore staying to well-used roads and pathways in rural areas is advised. Severe storms can result in flooding, landslides and cause extensive damage to infrastructure, resulting in the interruption of essential services. Since late 2011, heavy rains have caused the Mekong Delta and the central region to flood, and road conditions, especially toward the north of the country have deteriorated. Travellers are therefore advised to monitor weather and local news reports, and avoid disaster areas.

Vietnam Expat Health Insurance

Medical care for minor illnesses or injuries can be found in Vietnam. Facilities do not meet international standards however and serious medical conditions will often require evacuation to Singapore or Thailand. Medicines and equipment are frequently in short supply and immediate cash payment is expected at the time of treatment. An insurance policy can be arranged through International Medical Insurance, which provides cover for you whenever and wherever you travel. Globally transferable policies deliver benefits for a range of medical needs, from emergency evacuation and maternity services to doctors’ fees, specialist consultations and medications. To guarantee access to healthcare while in Vietnam, contact an International Medical Insurance consultant to discuss your requirements.