With the health insurance sector regaining its charm, existing players are rolling up their sleeves in anticipation of intense competition.

According to the Association of Vietnamese Insurers (AVI), insurance firms virtually neglected this segment until two years ago when it returned to their sights.

 “In the past two years, the health insurance market has grown by 30 percent a year, becoming one of the three most lucrative segments along with motor, property and casualty insurance,” Phung Dac Loc, AVI’s general secretary, said.

AVI data shows that the 27 non-life insurers in the market collect around 600 billion VND (34 million USD) in personal accident and heal insurance premiums annually.

Nguyen Huu Huan, marketing director of Liberty Mutual, said Vietnam is one of the smallest markets the American insurer operates in.

“But Liberty Mutual is an international operation. Vietnam is probably one of the top two countries that gets the most attention with its huge potential,” he said.

In 2008, Liberty Mutual launched its health insurance packages for expatriates in Vietnam and middle-class Vietnamese.

Loc said with the health segment set for heated competition, product quality would play a key role.

Almost all 27 non-life insurers in the country have health insurance products in their portfolio.

“The market will expand very quickly as the number of foreigners living in Vietnam rises over time and the living standard of Vietnamese improves,” Loc said.

Around 80,000 expats live in Vietnam now but most have health insurance coverage from their home countries.

Huan said his company had joined a clutch of international hospitals and clinics to serve its customers.

“Our service providers and network bill us directly for their services to our clients. We also have a 24/7 call centre to handle emergencies. In case of serious health problems, our service providers can take clients to see specialists in other countries and territories such as Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong,” he said.

Its partners include 17 clinics in all major cities around Vietnam.

Liberty said one of the most important criteria in selecting clinics is service quality.

Analysts said direct billing services for foreign customers is the biggest advantage enjoyed by local insurers.

Foreigners in Vietnam insured abroad have to send their medical bills overseas for reimbursement after using healthcare services in Vietnam.

The settlement process takes up to two weeks on average./.