By Julio Garcia-Villalon ,
Mercer Marsh Benefits Leader
29/03/2022 · 4 minute read
The last few years have been challenging for many organizations, as they’ve had to navigate a health and benefits landscape that’s gone through a significant shift because of the pandemic. Many employers found themselves facing a more diverse workforce with different needs such as remote or flexible working. The need for increased mental health support enabled some organizations to enhance their benefit plans and become employers of choice, while for other organizations it highlighted major gaps in their benefit plans. Employee perception of healthcare also changed, pushing organizations to consider health and benefits as a corporate priority rather than just a checklist exercise.
In late 2021, Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB) surveyed 210 insurers across 59 countries to identify the top trends that are shaping healthcare around the world (MMB Health Trends). In Middle East & Africa (MEA) we are seeing the impact of these health trends in three key areas; how the health and benefits landscape has changed, the impact of Covid-19 on healthcare, and an increasing focus on employee well-being and mental health.
Medical costs are on the rise in 2022 and organizations need to prepare in order to meet the financial demand this will place on their business. While many employers across MEA saw a substantial reduction in claims activity during the pandemic, majority are now experiencing a rebound that is matching or even exceeding pre-pandemic levels.
New regulations around healthcare and benefits have been introduced. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a new labor law came into effect on 2 February 2022 that recognizes flexible working patterns and non-traditional forms of employment, among other changes. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the Council for Cooperative Health Insurance (CCHI) has shortlisted a range of mandatory benefits enhancements, which are expected to be implemented mid-2022, that focus on preventive care, mental health coverage and increased coverages for current benefits.
Insurers are also considering how workforces have changed and how this affects healthcare. Global survey results showed that the top strategic priorities relating to group medical insurance were data and analytics, provider management, and quality care-focused benefit design. In South Africa, insurers noted an increase in the use of wellness offerings during the pandemic, and medical schemes updated their plans to include telemedicine and virtual consultations.
The changing health and benefits landscape means that employers need to review their HR policies and benefit strategies to ensure that they align with new legislation and a more diverse workforce. Employers that fail to make these changes may face financial risks from regulatory penalties or challenges attracting and retaining top talent.
Globally, Covid-19 related claims coverage levels varied across government-funded schemes. Survey results showed that 71% of insurers in MEA expected to cover outpatient Covid-19 treatment. The pandemic prompted many employers to review their benefit strategies and enhance their offerings relating to wellness and mental health as well as to improve upon their employee education and awareness initiatives relating to self-care, preventative care and telemedicine.
The impact of Covid-19 on healthcare is yet to be fully understood and insurers across the region are facing uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 claims due to challenges in capturing claims data. This could result in policy changes in the future as survey results indicated that 34% of insurers were considering invoking pre-existing condition limitations relating to long Covid-19 and a small portion have already incorporated exclusions into their policies.
Employers need to keep these aspects in mind when reviewing their benefit strategies and policies to ensure that they have adequate coverage in case of future pandemic incidences and are able to provide their employees with maximum protection.
Undeniably, the biggest impact of Covid-19 has been on the physical, mental and financial health of employees. Employees faced a range of challenges during the pandemic, from job loss, lockdown, and physical illness to great emotional strain and mental health issues.
Many organizations were able to react swiftly and provide their employees with support through offerings like Employee Assistance Programs, telehealth support and mental health support. A survey of employers in the Middle East showed that over a quarter (26%) of employers enhanced their benefits because of the pandemic (Mercer survey: 2021 Middle East Medical Plans – GCC non-KSA).
The increased focus on employee well-being and mental health shows a positive move towards creating healthier and happier workforces. Employers should make sure that their benefit plans include a variety of mental health and wellness offerings in order to provide the required support for their employees.
While these health trends and changes may pose challenges for many organizations, those who review their health and benefit strategies and HR policies, and adapt where necessary, will be adequately prepared to ensure their business and their people remain resilient.