With all the expenses you have day-to-day, you may be wondering about whether you really need health insurance in Hong Kong. For most people, the answer is: YES.

If you’re an expat doing research on the Hong Kong healthcare system and wondering about health insurance in Hong Kong, you might find the way healthcare and medical insurance works here in Hong Kong a little bit confusing.

The Hong Kong Healthcare System

Hong Kong’s healthcare system has a great reputation globally. Infant mortality is the lowest in the world and life expectancy is high. In 1993, they contributed to medical history by being the first in the world to carry out an adult live donor liver transplant.

As a former British colony, the healthcare system here is modelled off of the United Kingdom’s National Health Services (NHS). But in keeping with the free market economic policies, Hong Kong has a dual system with private healthcare working alongside the public system.

Hong Kong’s world-class healthcare system has 11 private hospitals and 43 public hospitals serving a population of roughly 7.4 million people so healthcare is easily accessible.

The Public Healthcare System

The 43 hospitals in the public healthcare system are regulated by the Hospital Authority. Tasked with providing universal healthcare, residents and even non-permanent residents who have a valid visa and ID card can get access to free or very low co-pay healthcare.

Other people will need to pay for treatment but even then, it is quite affordable - especially compared with other countries with comparable quality of healthcare like the United States. For example, if you are admitted into a public hospital’s Accident and Emergency (A&E) services ward, you are charged a flat fee equivalent to roughly US$180.

While Hong Kong’s public healthcare system is undoubtedly world-class and affordable, there are many reasons what push expats to seek private medical care.

Wait Times - Public hospitals are large bureaucratic organizations servicing a ton of patients on a daily basis. This means that wait times can be long - in January 2019, patients coming into A&E departments had to wait 8 hours to be seen by a doctor. Even patients needing simple surgeries like a cataract operation could need to wait anywhere from 8 to 30 months. In fact, even stage 3 or 4 cancer patients may need to wait for treatment.

Language Barrier - While many public hospital doctors were trained outside of Hong Kong and can speak very good English, you’re not guaranteed to find a doctor who speaks your mother language.

Comfort/Quality of Care - With public hospitals serving so many patients, you’ll often times find yourself in a room with 6 or 7 other patients. And it's also likely that you have no control over who is providing your medical care. You may see 3 or 4 different doctors over the duration of your treatment and they probably won’t be able to spend too much time with you.

Private Healthcare in Hong Kong

The private healthcare system addresses many of the shortcomings of the public healthcare system making it a very attractive option for expats. When it comes to your health and when every day counts, it is not a good idea to be stuck waiting for treatment at a public hospital so shorter wait times are a big reason many expats and locals alike choose to go to a private hospital for medical care in Hong Kong. And compared to public hospitals, you’re also more likely to be assigned to a doctor that can speak a language you are comfortable with.

Speaking of comfort, many of Hong Kong’s private hospitals have accommodations ranging from private rooms to more luxurious hotel style suites with a sleeping area for guests, a dining area, and even a kitchen. Recovering from a serious illness or injury is hard thus being as comfortable as possible can make a huge difference.

That said, there is a cost to all this luxury. While public hospital care is heavily subsidized by the government, people who choose private healthcare must pay their own way and it’s not cheap. Private medical institutions in Hong Kong get to set their own rates and is the 2nd most expensive in the world after the United States. A simple visit to a general practitioner can range from HK$250 and HK$1,000 and cancer treatment can exceed HK$1,500,000 in some cases.

In light of these steep fees, many locals and expats who prefer private medical care choose to purchase health insurance to offset some of the costs.

Health Insurance in Hong Kong

Medical insurance in Hong Kong can be purchased for an individual for a family, or as part of a group benefits package businesses provide to employees. Regardless of how you get it, health insurance helps alleviate some of the costs of private healthcare by offering 4 main coverages:

Inpatient Coverage - This is the most basic and important coverage provided by all medical insurance plans in Hong Kong. It covers treatments administered in a hospital (ie. surgeries, scans, IV antibiotics, etc.).

Outpatient Coverage - This coverage pays for treatments done outside of a hospital setting (ie. prescription drugs, specialist visits, rehab, etc.). If you’re on any long-term medications, this coverage is important as costs can stack up quickly.

Dental Coverage - Depending on what you choose, this optional coverage pays for anything from routine cleanings to major treatments like bridgework or jackets.

Alternative Therapies Coverage - Alternative therapies are very popular in Hong Kong. Most outpatient plans will also cover alternative therapies like acupuncture, chiropractic, traditional chinese medicine, or homeopathy.

This is a very general breakdown of the healthcare system and medical insurance in Hong Kong but there is a lot more to it than what you’ve read. For more information on this or to learn more about which option is best for you, get in touch with a licensed Trusted Union health insurance advisor.