In conjunction with World Health Day (7 April) Aon has launched its inaugural Asia Healthcare Trends Report 2017/18. While medical inflation in Singapore has dropped from 20% in 2014 to 9.6% in 2017, there is still plenty to be done to curb medical inflation in Singapore - starting with medical insurers and healthcare providers working together on chronic disease management programmes, as well as companies encouraging their employees to participate in wellness programmes.
Examining medical inflation, its key drivers, and prevailing cost management strategies by insurers across 11 markets in the region; the report shows that Singapore (95.1) lags behind the regional median on Medical Inflation Index (AMII) score of 82.7, on top of being the 8th highest of the markets surveyed.
Tim Dwyer, CEO, health and benefits, Asia Pacific, Aon, said highlighted that employers have a significant part to play by investing in innovative benefits that promote wellness, and facilitate early detection of chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and hypertension. He commented: “These efforts will also help them increase productivity, differentiate their employer brand, and gain competitive business advantage.”
In general terms, the deployment of wellness tools and resources in Singapore is at a relatively mature phase, the report states. In fact, whilst health screening (31) and health promotion (31) are relatively commonplace, utilising data in support of rolling out targeted interventions (25) is marginally less so.
Online wellness portals (25) that foster employee engagement and healthy lifestyle behaviours are at a similar stage of maturity. Both mental health (16) and women’s health programmes (9) are in scarce supply. With the increasing awareness of the physical and social cost of stress and other mental illnesses, we expect that financial and infrastructure commitment will ramp up in coming years.
It said: “One of the reasons Singaporeans in the workplace, across organisations of all sizes, enjoys access to wellness programmes is because of the efforts of the statutory Singapore Health Promotion Board (HPB). For many years, this instrumentality has provided organisations with tools and resources and access to government grants to foster the development of healthy workplaces.”
The report stated that Singapore is at the forefront of working with a range of technology and devices manufacturers to develop the next generation of medical technology that will facilitate its population using remote devices for health monitoring and coaching purposes.
It said: “Like China, Singapore is a market that we expect to be at the cutting edge of technology in transforming the health and wellness landscape. Another factor supporting the rollout of employee wellness programmes in Singapore is the high concentration of regional and global head offices.”
“With employee wellness being at a more mature level in the US and western Europe as these programmes are exported to key regional centers, Singapore is one of the key beneficiaries,” it continued.
In the report, it stated that Asia is being hit by a convergence of several unfavourable factors including a rapidly growing middle class with heightened expectations of healthcare outcomes, an ageing population and sedentary lifestyles.
For example, other than raised blood pressure (22.6%), the health risk factors affecting Singaporeans are tobacco smoking (13.3%), obesity (7.1%) and alcohol consumption of 2.9 per capita, litres of pure alcohol.
With a growing incidence of chronic illnesses among Singapore residents, this not only decreases their quality of life, but it makes them less productive. The report states this having a direct and adverse impact on the economy.
Therefore, managing the disease burden and cost of healthcare is a priority, and some of the most popular initiatives include restricting specialist access to patients with general practitioner (GP) referrals and pre-authorisation of high cost inpatient procedures. GPs have also been successful in dispensing generic medications instead of more expensive patent equivalents.
The report also states that inpatient costs are the primary driver of inflation, with surgery costs experiencing the greatest increase in Singapore. At the outpatient level, diagnostic costs outweighed medical fees - a trend driven by an ageing population and high prevalence of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and cancers.
On that note, Dwyer said: "Private healthcare systems work best in tandem with vibrant public systems, as we've seen in markets such as Thailand, South Korea, and especially Singapore - which has effectively halved its medical inflation rate over recent years. This is due to the concerted cost management efforts of consumers, healthcare providers, and medical insurers that provide effective management of the outpatient claims experience.”
In comparison, Malaysia scored an AMII of 132.4. Additionally, health screening emerged as the most popular wellness initiative (45) - with the only other activity to attract strong support being health promotion (37.5). The relative absence of targeted interventions (20) and employee engagement tools (online wellness portal - 10) does not bode well for encouraging employees to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyle behaviours.
Meanwhile, wellness programmes that target mental health are almost non-existent (7.5), insurers observed that women’s health programmes (22.5) are gaining traction.