Actuarial news and views from Cape Town and beyond

International Health Insurance: BUPA Global

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BUPA Global is an international insurance company (started in the UK) that offers a variety of health insurance products. To name a few of the policies on offer for individuals: annual and short-term health insurance, and travel health insurance; and for businesses: company and international school health insurance, and health insurance for companies that are part of a few specified industries (maritime yachting/shipping, mining and exploration, and oil and gas). The individuals that Bupa Global targets are those who travel a lot for work, are transferred to a different country, or are travelling for enjoyment who require indemnity regarding health costs, which are not incurred in their country of citizenship, for shorter terms. As most of their insurance products are short-term, Bupa Global would fall under the umbrella of general insurance companies. Various benefits are on offer with a base cover that has additional options that can be selected by the individual.

I discovered this insurance company through my friend, as she used to have a policy with them due to her family working in the DRC as contractors. The reason why they specifically chose this company was because they offered immediate evacuation by helicopter to appropriate medical facilities in the case of a medical emergency. Her younger sister was born with defective kidneys and thus this was a critical consideration when deciding to move to the DRC, as the medical facilities there would not be able to offer what she would need for treatment if an adverse circumstance were to arise.

However, the application for her sister’s policy was rejected (I suspect this was due to her being too risky with regards to her having a pre-existing kidney condition). What bothers me is that Bupa Global reiterates on their website and through a YouTube video on their history (both links are provided below) that the company is all about improving people’s lives in terms of length, health and happiness. They are the only international insurance company that provides the immediate helicopter evacuation, but they are denying it to an individual who has a critical need for it.

I know insurance companies want to make a profit as well as meet the needs of individuals, but who are we as actuaries to say that particular individuals are too risky for the insurance company to take on and then deny this care to those who are in need of it most?

Bupa’s website:

Bupa’s History:


One thought on “International Health Insurance: BUPA Global

  1. On whether it’s acceptable for insurers to deny high-risk individuals insurance: I think that insurers have to be allowed to do this, for the benefit of the rest of society. If they can’t reject high-risk individuals, anti-selection and the insurance spiral come into play, and if providing insurance becomes unprofitable, ultimately no one would be able to buy insurance (including the high-risk individuals).

    I haven’t been able to find an explanation as to why insurers reject some applicants rather than charging very high premiums, except for cases where they identify fraudulent applications. Maybe some risks are just too difficult to price, or a loss seems too likely if the premiums aren’t unacceptably high. Insurers might need to consider potential losses in reputation or marketing implications if they charge excessively high premiums.

    I think the nature of Bupa’s business might make it difficult for any kind of legislative solution (e.g. banning underwriting and compelling people to purchase insurance) to apply to them in particular, since their product crosses borders. Without state intervention, I don’t think Bupa can be blamed for rejecting high-risk applicants, as they do need to balance the interests of all their stakeholders rather than jeopardizing their level of profitability, or even the business’s survival, for the sake of a few.

    The features they offer on some of their products seem quite clever.

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