You founded MediHelp International 15 years ago. Why did you decide to enter the health insurance market?
It was obvious that in this region – not only Romania – there was a system of free medical services granted by the government to the entire public equally. It worked in the communist style, but in the post-communist era, that concept became outdated. It no longer worked. Even in the country I come from, Israel – considered to be an advanced state in terms of medical services – our government finds it more and more difficult to grant adequate services to the entire population.
Countries that came out of the era of communist rule – like Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Croatia – wanted to continue the idea of free medical care for everybody, but they could not afford it.
Private medical insurance, it seems, could be the missing component, at least for those who can afford it, to be able to go to private medical providers and to be secured for the payment with an insurance plan. This is not a perfect solution for the state, but for sure a big relief for the national health budget.
Speaking of which countries MediHelp is in, what does the company offer these markets?
We offer a very simple package covering A to Z medical care anywhere in Europe and, for an additional premium, anywhere in the world. If you are a policyholder, you don’t need our permission and you don’t need to use a list of providers; you’re free to choose your provider in your country and get top medical care. If there is a problem finding one, you cannot get an appointment or you cannot find that type of service in your country, then you can go to any European Union (EU) country, get medical care and, in all cases, the MediHelp insurance plan will pay for it.
We have a same-day turnaround time. We have a prepaid card for every customer, who can actually use our money to pay the expenses, reducing claims procedure and waiting time.
I think we were the first in the continent to eliminate the claims procedure. Policyholders just pay with our cards, they check, and they send us a photo of the receipt – via WhatsApp, for example – and if the policy is paid and covers that specific medical care that they’re after, we should load your payment card in real time. They can use our money, but they pay the bill, and we finish the claim.
Private medical insurance, it seems, could be the missing component
Looking at the health insurance market as an entity, what developments have you seen over the past 15 years?
What we see is a shift from membership packages with medical providers to low-standard and cheap insurance plans. I am worried to see insurance packages for €300 per year. Honestly, if you just make one telephone call a year to say ‘Good morning, doctor’, and that doctor answers the phone, that already is a cost of €300. How can you cover someone’s yearly medical needs for €300?
I think it is a continuation of trying to suppress the real understanding of the public that they must take responsibility over their health. The state will not do this any more as it used to, and you cannot get an adequate medical solution for €300 per year for anybody in any country. The state or the region doesn’t matter.
After inflation, medical inflation, the rise in technology costs, and the prolongation of living conditions – people live longer and have higher necessities for health – the cost per person for medical care is about to increase and therefore for €200, €300 or €400 per year is a joke. This trend will have to die because it’s not financially viable.
I think what will happen is that the insurance companies will have to help us educate the public. The honeymoon with the state taking care of your health is over. It cannot work and I’m sorry that the governments are not clearly saying this. But we know very well that if the Ministers of Health went to the public and said, ‘We are multiplying your taxes, but we’ll give you excellent medical care’, they will not be in office in two days. I guess there will be no choice but to accept that for proper medical care somebody has to pay the proper allocated amount.
How has technology enhanced the health insurance market?
I think that the insurance industry is still working under an old-fashioned approach; the health insurance industry was never a pioneer in adapting technology.
We, at MediHelp, are also in a situation where we need to improve our tech performance. I get pushes from our managers to invest in technology – in a better portal for the customer, in better IT performance for customer service and for the sales process.
Technology can help us a lot, and we are now working on a project with all the country managers developing a tool for the salespeople to understand better how to fit the right insurance plan to the customer’s needs, and how to leave customers with a full understanding of what they’ve bought, so there aren’t any problems or misunderstandings later.
The payment card I told you about, it’s a prepaid Mastercard that is now being transferred to the phone. That’s not such a big deal as this technology already exists in the market, but I doubt there are many insurers using it; we have a growing number of customers across the region who do. They can go to a medical provider, send a photo of the receipt on their phone and in real time get the confirmation of the payment and use the card on their phone to make the payment. In a matter of seconds, this procedure is finished and it’s bye-bye claim.
On your company’s LinkedIn, you’ve recently announced partnerships with CityDent and Affidea, for example. How important are these partnerships to the company and to your clients?
We are on a free choice policy. You can go anywhere you like, but sometimes we have a situation where the provider will come to us and offer some additional benefits over type of services that are not included in the policy.
For example, we don’t cover dental care on all plans or all types of dental care. So, it’s very good for us to have made these arrangements for our customers. With CityDent, for example, you can just go there and show your MediHelp card, and they’ll give you a discount.
We are actually not involved in the financial arrangement here, but you can get an additional benefit from being our customer. Affidea has created a facility for MediHelp customers that for some types of procedures you get priority, or you get special entry into their reception and discount for things that our policy would not cover.
The honeymoon, with the state taking care of your health, is over
Where do you see the health insurance market going in the future?
The burden of medical care for the population will decrease on the government’s side and will be transferred to the private medical providers’ side, which will encourage the private medical provider industry to grow. There will be more people who will use a private provider to get medical care rather than the state’s offering. The state can use this money for the basic basket of benefits that are a must and that every country would want to protect, such as emergency, maybe maternity and old people’s issues.
Other than that, the government must encourage people to buy health insurance by giving tax benefits to the employer and so they don’t have to pay benefit in kind, which is a disaster in some countries.
We are thinking about going into nursing insurance for old age. People don’t like to think about old age, although we all know that one day, we’ll be there. So, you buy a nursing insurance policy, and you are paying a reasonable amount because you’re starting it at a relatively young age. Once you reach an older age, if you need nursing services, the policy will pay for your nursing care needs either at home or in a nursing care home, so you don’t need to be dependent on your children or family and you don’t need to sell your assets or real estate in order to afford it. And if the allowance of the government is too low, you can still guarantee for yourself proper care in later years.
I think people are not aware of the need that there is. In Eastern Europe, there are no care homes or no adequate care homes and almost no facilities for the Third Age. I’m very interested in developing this.