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How employers can support caregivers facing increased responsibilities and financial stress with the right benefits

Stepping up on corporate responsibility in meeting family health needs is a win-win for employers and employees. Here’s why.

Happy extended Asian family spending time together

In Asia, a significant 76% of employees take on caregiving responsibilities, and in certain countries within the region, this figure exceeds 90%.1  Considering that medical costs are projected to rise four times faster than general inflation, coupled with scarcity of certain medical supplies and services, there is a risk of increased financial and emotional stress for your employees who are caregivers for their parents, partner and children.2

While most countries in Asia have universal healthcare coverage (UHC), the public healthcare system often see long wait times for medical treatments due to resource constraints, and requires out-of-pocket costs such as co-pays and deductibles. These factors may lead to a strain on public health systems and delayed care, treatment, absenteeism, decreased productivity, and higher attrition rates, resulting in a barrier to realising an equitable, sustainable and healthy society.

In our first report on how rising costs impact healthcare inequality in Asia, we highlighted five areas employers can help advance health equity in the workforce and society. In this interview, Dr. Kanupriya Jain, Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB)  ASEAN and HK Workforce Health & Sustainability Consulting Leader, speaks to Steven Yu and Wimon Changthongkham, MMB Leaders for China and Thailand to gain insights into the healthcare challenges and needs faced by families, and how companies can tailor employee healthcare benefits to enhance their corporate responsibility to support the increased responsibilities and financial stress of caregivers in their workforce.

Q: Why is it crucial for employers to understand family needs and address the health protection gap?

Wimon: By understanding diverse family needs, employers can formulate effective strategies to bridge the healthcare gap, safeguard families from the adverse effects of rising health costs, and become the employer of choice for attracting and retaining talent. In Thailand, we are facing a rapidly ageing population with a steadily declining birth rate where the next generation will be supporting the health needs of a larger population.3 Employers can consider incorporating preventative and holistic programs to prevent the frequency and severity of chronic ailments into their employer sponsored medical benefits. The shift towards prevention improves health and financial outcomes in the long term, and employers will find that collectively with the government, they can slow down medical inflation and create healthier societies.

Steven: I totally agree. In China, caregivers are working and unable to seek immediate medical care for their parents and children in the public system due to long wait lines. There is also a gap between demand and supply. For example, there is a need for long-term elderly care and easier access to medical specialists for certain chronic ailments but a scarcity of these resources. Employers can play a critical role in bridging these gaps by leveraging the MMB’s network to obtain critical care at a reasonable price to narrow the coverage gaps for their employees.

Q: What challenges do caregivers, especially the sandwich generation, face in accessing healthcare for their parents and children?

Wimon: Thailand is a large country where many workers congregate in Bangkok for work, or travel to the Eastern seaboard for industrial work. Caregivers may find challenges in accessing affordable and timely care for their elderly parents, such as hiring live-in helpers and nurses, especially in other provinces. They may also have problems taking time off to care for their children. Besides financial stress, there is also the psychological stress of being separated from their families who are hours of drive or a domestic flight away. Providing flexible work arrangements for employees and digital health benefits to distanced family members help reduce the separation stress and plays a significant role in supporting employees. It is also important to review and enhance benefits to address not only the physical but emotional health of the employees and their dependents.  

Steven: We face the same problem in China, especially from the effects of the previous one-child policy, resulting in some young couples needing to care for four elderly parents and their own children. Employees are not always able to attend to the immediate healthcare needs of their parents or children. They probably have their own needs too. This is one of the most challenging areas for the sandwich generation in China. Understanding the employee’s concerns, we recently worked with our client in the pharmaceutical industry to provide professionally trained caregivers to care for their employees’ family members admitted to the hospital. As the company has employees from all over China working in their Shanghai office, this service provides the employees with a peace of mind as they cannot just get on a train or a flight to care for their loved ones.

Q: Women generally play the main caregiver role in families. Do you have any examples of coverage gaps faced by women in accessing healthcare?

Steven: According to the 2023 MMB Health on Demand report , 64% of employees in China indicated that it is important to them that their employers support women’s health. However, less than 25% are providing fertility, menopause, and contraception coverage. Working women, who are also the expected caregivers in society need support, therefore we are an advocate of women’s health and wellness and working with insurers to design plans with that in mind, be it full coverage or voluntary benefits depending on the needs of the employers. 

Wimon: Cost is an important consideration for companies in Thailand and extra benefits such as women’s health coverage could impact their profits. But we are seeing employee benefits such as family leave and more flexible working policies being implemented. We are recommending that employers start by including female-related preventative care such as pap smears in their health check benefits for employers with a large proportion of female employees. We also advise companies to strike a balance between empathy and economics to include voluntary benefits and additional health and wellbeing activities or insurance to reduce coverage gaps for women’s health.

Q: What are some innovative corporate initiatives or programs that companies have successfully implemented to address healthcare challenges for families in China and Thailand?

Steven: In China, digital health and plan modernisations have led to the most responsive solutions that address health inequities by improving quality, cost, and access. The Mercer pocket doctor is an example of a digital healthcare solution we designed for our client, a leading consulting firm, whose employees are often on the road. The feedback is that the employees have no time to make appointments at clinics with their doctors. Our digital healthcare solution provides a good network of reputable doctors across the country where our client’s employees can easily obtain a medical consultation via their phones and manage their health on the go.

Wimon: Provision of flexible benefits that lead to the personalisation of care play a pivotal role in bridging the health protection gap for Asian families, empowering them with options to choose the benefits that are most meaningful to them. These policies offer comprehensive coverage options for various health and wellbeing needs, such as higher hospitalisation coverage, outpatient care, dental or optical care, gym membership, and childcare etc. Digital health aids such as wearable technology, home testing kits, and apps for medical issues as well as locating medical professionals are other areas insurers and companies are exploring in terms of offerings.


Empower your business with an effective employee benefits plan for your workforce

A sustainable and healthy workforce is essential for business stability, competitiveness and growth, leading to a more equitable and healthy society.

Speak to an MMB representative today to learn how you can tailor a benefits plan to achieve sustained health and productivity in your workforce.

1 Mercer Marsh Benefits, Health on demand 2023

2 Mercer Marsh Benefits, Health Trends 2023

3 Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME),

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