Employee benefits, especially health and wellness coverage, has evolved in the past year - leaders are being forced to evaluate their plans, in order to adapt to shifting priorities brought on by COVID-19.

According to Mercer's latest MMB Health Trends: 2020 Insurer Survey,in 2019, insurers in Asia reported cost increases of 10.2%, which was five times the rate of inflation. In 2020, medical costs in Asia are expected to outpace general inflation by 7.5 times with an average rise in medical costs of 10.7%, compared to the global average of 9.5%.

Additionally, looking at 2021, 86% of insurers in Asia, compared to 90% globally, expect the trend to sustain or increase.

Here's how employers are looking at their employee benefits plans moving forward.

What influences employer-sponsored group medical costs the most

Undoubtedly, a wellbeing strategy that covers not just physical health, but also mental, social and financial health, especially in the era of COVID-19, is important. 

According to the study, when employers in Asia were asked to rate a series of risk factors on a scale of one to five based on how they would influence group medical costs, (with five being the most significant), the top four ratings involved:

  • #1 Metabolic and cardiovascular risk (rating: about 4)
  • #2 Occupational risk (rating: about 3.5)
  • #3 Environmental risk (rating: between 3-3.5)
  • #4 Emotional/mental risk (rating; between 3-3.5)

Globally, these factors also rated among the top influential factors, with metabolic and cardiovascular risk rating highest in MEA (rating: between 4.5-5); occupational risk in Europe (rating: between 3.5-4); dietary risk and emotional/mental risk in Latin America (rating: close to 4 respectively).

What do employers expect to cover in their employees' medical package?

Taking a look at how they hope to deal with COVID-19 in 2021, many respondents in Asia noted that assuming availability, they would expect their typical group medical insurance plan to cover:

  • COVID-19 inpatient treatment (more than 80%)
  • COVID-19 outpatient treatment (about 70%)
  • COVID-19 vaccinations (about 55%)

At the same time, nearly 50% would include COVID-19 viral testing in their coverage, followed by COVID-19 antibody testing (close to 40%). On the other hand, slightly more than 5% do not expect to have any of the above in their typical plans.

Half of employers surveyed in Asia are open to digital health innovations

Telemedicine, virtual interventions, and more - these could be the norm for employers in their benefits plans moving forward, with about half being open to the idea, a separate research by Mercer has found. 

In fact, when surveyed pre-pandemic, 53% of employers globally found telemedicine for simple health issues to be "highly or extremely" valuable (employees: 42%), followed by 51% for telemedicine covering significant health issues (employees: 42%), and 48% for virtual mental health counselling (employees: 41%). 

In line with this, the study also  found that 40% of employees would be less likely to switch jobs if their employer promotes or sponsors digital health solutions.

The following health innovations emerged as the top five most-valued in a post-COVID world:

  • An app that helps find the right doctor or medical care when needed 
    • Employees: 51%
    • Employers: 60%
  • An app that helps find an expert doctor based on diagnosis, anywhere in the world
    • Employees: 49%
    • Employers: 57%
  • Personal individual and family medical records that are electronic and portable
    • Employees: 47%
    • Employers: 55%
  • Self-managing health conditions using wearable technology
    • Employees: 45%
    • Employers: 53%
  • Self- managing wellbeing using wearable technology
    • Employees: 43%
    • Employers: 52%

Further in the theme of digitalisation, the study noted that the normalisation of on-demand services means that digital health solutions will play a growing role in delivering the personalised and convenient experiences they have come to expect from top social media, consumer health and gaming applications.

At the same time, fun, social, gamified community-building experiences will be even more important as more people work remotely.

In the same vein, most employers surveyed (81%) ranked "achieving a globally consistent employee experience" as a high priority.

Thus, the report highlighted that employers looking to build a workplace culture of engagement, especially those with remote, onsite and blended workforces, should not only consider offering digital health investments, but also how these investments are delivered to employee populations.

HR is looking at providing more access to mental health interventions

According to Mercer, while 71% of senior decision-makers surveyed believed their company cared "mostly" or "a great deal" about their employees' health and wellbeing, only 50% of employees felt the same.

However, the report also found that more HR teams today are seeking programmes to help their employees and their dependents.

In line with this, in Asia, about 45% of insurers surveyed are covering outpatient treatment for mental health (psychological and/or psychiatric counselling); while slightly more than 40% are covering inpatient treatment for the same cause.

Similarly, close to four in 10 are covering outpatient treatment for mental health with medication prescriptions. However, a similar percentage do not currently provide such coverage.


Photo / Mercer study

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