In this exclusive iPMI Magazine interview, Christopher Knight, CEO, iPMI Magazine, met with SIR Zahal Levy, President of MediHelp International. They discuss in detail MediHelp International iPMI plans, developments and markets plus where the iPMI market is heading, and the affect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Please introduce yourself and background in the international private medical insurance market:
My name is Zahal Levy and I am the president and founder of MediHelp International. I have a wealth of experience in the medical and in the medical insurance industry, having managed as many as 2,000 employees in companies with turnovers reaching €50 million. I have led these companies through start-up, survival, turnaround and growth modes.
Before assuming my current role in 2007, I was Vice President Business Development for Euromedic (Affidea) International, based in Budapest. I came to Eastern Europe in 1997 to set up a challenging business enterprise, SOS Medical and Ambulance Emergency Services (in Romania). Previous to this, I held various management positions and shareholdings in insurance enterprises in Israel.
As an expatriate living in Central Eastern Europe for 15 years, I understand the specifics of the area and I designed appropriate health insurance packages for both expatriates and locals while at the same time creating a dedicated team to professionally and efficiently meet customer demands.
Who is MediHelp International and what do you provide the international private medical insurance market?
MediHelp International is the leading private health insurance provider in Central Eastern Europe, with offices in Romania, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria.
We have been present on the health insurance market for more than 15 years and we have a clear mission: to create and develop innovative solutions adapted to the needs of our clients and partners. We have been pioneers in providing comprehensive health insurance plans, along with health care and high-standard customer care services.
We have become a well-recognized company, constantly growing, respected and appreciated by the most important international health insurance companies, as well as by our business partners, employees and customers around the world.
Can you walk us through the range of international private medical insurance plans MediHelp International provides?
Our international private medical insurance plans offer coverage from €500,000 up to €3,000,000 per policy. The MediHelp plans cover, but are not limited to hospitalization, emergency transportation and treatment, outpatient medical services, maternity care, preventive treatment.
MediHelp International health insurance policies cover hospital and treatment costs for severe illnesses such as cancer or chronic diseases and even tissue and organ transplant, which would normally be extremely expensive.
We invite you to discover all the benefits of our plans on our website (www.medihelp-assistance.com).
What are the advantages of MediHelp International IPMI plans?
With international private medical insurance, our customers can choose the clinic and the specialist for their treatment, thus ensuring that all medical procedures are performed so that the diagnosis and treatment are the most appropriate for them.
If our customers choose private health insurance with international coverage, they will benefit from direct settlement for a series of medical services in a network made up of more than 1.4 million of private clinics and hospitals throughout the world.
We have a dedicated Customer Care department and we offer assistance in local languages as well as provide fast reimbursement of medical costs.
Geographically speaking, where does MediHelp International do business?
We have a strong presence in Central and Eastern Europe with offices in Romania, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria.
We are currently carrying out market research into the possibility of expanding our reach into other countries.
How has the international private medical insurance market changed in the past 15 years?
In the last 15 years the market has changed like this: 15 years ago, we could only insure ex-patriots. They came from abroad, from countries where they knew what health insurance was. They were used to buying a health insurance policy and making the most of advantages that come with having health insurance, so it wasn’t a strange idea for them. Health insurance for themselves or for their families was a priority. At that time locals did not know what health insurance was or involved. Then those same people, those managers from overseas, started to worry about their senior employees and they asked us to also insure these employees as well. This was the catalyst for the provision of private international health insurance to local residents. Today, senior managers who are nationals within a firm owned by foreigners tend to get medical health insurance included in their salary package in the way many foreign employees have done for decades. The ‘product’ has now become localised and there is far greater take-up from local owners of companies. At the same time, over the years more and more Romanians have travelled further afield and now either work, study or go on holiday abroad. What they saw in many foreign countries was a healthcare system different to the one at home, one which provided services to many who had health insurance. While medical facilities in Romania might not have matched those in other foreign countries, international health insurance gave Romanians access to better, international hospitals. Now, the standard of healthcare for Romania has improved and the demand for proper healthcare has grown, healthcare that still isn’t fully available in Romania.
COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on travel and global mobility. How has COVID-19 affected the IPMI market?
I think the effect of the pandemic is waning and international travel is starting up again. Consequently, where before we have had little demand for assistance to seek overseas treatment for medical conditions, that is once again on the increase, even though in an emergency we would have been able to arrange foreign travel for a patient. With a sense of things ‘getting back to normal’, it seems that everyone is beginning to accept that COVID-19 is just something we will all just have to learn to live with. Normal life now means normal healthcare when needed, whether it is treatment abroad or at home.
What are the biggest risks the international private medical insurance market currently faces?
I am afraid that the risks are going to materialize in front of our eyes very soon. The pandemic has dealt a big blow to the international health market, to the local health markets, and the amount of money that was invested in healthcare. The pandemic has actually coloured the black spots of healthcare. Some of them we had known before, while some we found out during the time we were busy with the pandemic. Europe is going to see an exhausted medical system after the pandemic, and the situation will probably be even worse than before, and I think we’ll see a big increase in the price of private health care. And that represents a risk for us because we do not want to sell our products at higher prices than we sell them now, but on the other hand we need to pay claims for services that are being provided by private medical facilities around Europe, and we are subject to their prices and to medical inflation. So it is a huge risk because we still want to make sure that we keep the affordability of our products.
In the next decade, how will the international private medical insurance market develop?
I feel that the idea of the state being the one responsible for an individual’s health in Romania is slowly disappearing. I think everybody understands that if they want to have proper healthcare, they have to have some kind of medical insurance and to assume the responsibility for the health and well being of themselves, their families, and where appropriate, their employees. The way to do this is not to look to the state for the provision of all your medical needs, but nor should you expect your employer to pay for any medical expenses.. So if your boss does not want to pay for your “abonament” or for your health insurance then you don’t have one. I think that is changing though. There are more ways of assuming responsibility and I believe that in the end in Romania the “abonament” will probably be discontinued and will pave its way to private medical insurance. This is a trend that we see everywhere. Medical providers such as Medlife, Sanador or Medicover will probably sell their services for a fee. It means that you will go to a clinic, get your treatment, and you will either pay with our payment card which we are already providing to our customers, or you will be reimbursed for your costs.
Last, but not least, if you could live anywhere in the world, on land, or at sea, where would it be?
This is a very good question which I don’t have an answer to. Sometimes when I am working in my garden, I have these moments when I think that one day, I will buy a small plot of land on a nice small island or by a nice beach in Greece and I could build a nice house where the front is made of glass and looks out over the beach. I could swim and ride my bike as why do I need all these headaches that come with my work? At my age, most people are retiring. But then I say to myself “No”. The time isn’t right yet to travel across the globe in search of a dream location for my retirement home. I am happy for now living in a place called MediHelp. This is where I live. It is a place where I am still developing, creating, working, growing with my wonderful team and this is the place I have chosen to remain. I want a life that is interesting, has wonderful moments and development options which I do not want to miss out on. So, in short, the place that I want to be is called MEDIHELP.