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Employers called to ease the burden of rising healthcare costs worldwide
2019-01-07 15:59:17
KC Jones

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Healthcare costs continue to swell worldwide, rising by 9.9 percent annually on average, or more than three times the global inflation rate, the 2017 Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB) annual medical survey revealed.

MMB, a global advisor on employee benefits for companies, concluded employers could do a lot to help ease the burden for both companies and employees.

After all, both employers and and their staff shoulder the cost of medical benefits for employees, and maximizing  the benefits from expensive healthcare would be good for both employers and their staff.  When employees are healthy and happy, they tend to be more productive.  This, in effect, improve the company's earnings, making employers happy, too, in the end.

Released last July 19, MMB's latest report emphasized that employers worldwide have a role in influencing medical care costs.The report concluded: "Employers and their employees can affect both cost and outcomes and ensure access and quality with a strategy that asks the following questions: Are we paying for value?Is our plan driving increased access but overlooking ways to ensure quality?Do our benefits address the risks present in our employee population?Are our employees engaged?Are we using technology to enhance the employee benefits experience?"

As answer to those questions, tMMB advised employers to ensure healthcare plans that "incentivize" results, like covering illness prevention and crisis care for sick employees.  It also suggested using better information and technology to cleverly design and integrate resources.Some of these data, MMB said, could include public system healthcare resources.

MMB also recommended obtaining third-party audit for employers' medical plans, "along with advocacy and quality asurance to help employees navigate a cost-effective health benefits system."

"Now is the time for employers to take action and play a role in shaping the healthcare market," the MMB report said.

For the third year in a row, MMB surveyed insurers around the world to find out the cost of healthcare and the top claims in various parts of the globe.  This is to help  employers understand medical plan costs and design their healthccare plans, such that these control cost and meet the needs of their diverse workforces.

For this year, MMB surveyed a total of 220 insurers across 63 countries from March to April 2017.  Like before, about half of the participating insurers are network affiliates of multinational pools.MMB said it got enough response from 48 countries to publish medical trend rates.The medical benefits advisor wanted employers around the globe to consider three key points revealed in the survey: First, medical trend rates remain high.Second, cancer and circulatory diseases continue to account for the top claims.Third, insurers predict that employees would continue to look for healthcare benefits from employers.

As for the first point, the MMB medical report asked: "Do employers have opportunities to drive better value by reviewing healthcare consumer choice options to ensure that higher costs are also resulting in better outcomes?" 

The report said the second point on top claims on cancer could mean that employers have the chance to drive better value by ensuring their health plans include programs that prevent such diseases.It added employers could also invest in incentives for employee-health maintenance and disease prevention schemes.

About the point that employees would continue to demand healthcare benefits from employers, the MMB said employers could give their employees some incentives to be fit, thus effectively enhancing their workforces and curbing demand for medical benefits at the same time.

As an example of disease prevention measure, the United Kingdom's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recently recommended that employers in England focus on accessibility of flu vaccines by publicizing their availability on social media, peer vaccination, and data sharing.The London-based public health care agency is guiding England's employers through the process--to which the latter agreed to--until August this year.

Based on its analysis, NICE said: “Considering only the costs of vaccination and the cost of replacement workers, increasing the uptake of flu vaccination is cost-saving."

In the United States, there is the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which, since 2014 has given small businesses in the US the chance to join the so-called small business health options program (SHOP).  The program aims to help small business and small tax-exempt groups afford the cost of covering their employees' health insurance.This law even has an added incentive: A small business that has fewer than 25 employees and provides health insurance may qualify for a small business tax credit of up to 50 percent.

First prescribed in Finand, diabetes prevention programs that address physical activity and nutrition are now widely adopted in many countries, delaying the onset of diabetes by 58 percent.MMB said web-based and phone-based options allow quicker access with the same results.

The 2017 MMB study puts the projected 2017 healthcare cost increase at 9.7 percent, three times the forecast global inflation rate of 3.6 percent.  North America's projected rise in healthcare cost this year is 11 percent, a wide gap from its forecast inflation rate of only 2 percent.Healthcare cost in Asia is pegged at an average of 10.2 percent against forecast inflation of 2.8 percent.Australia has 6.8 percent healthcare cost increase against a 2-percent inflation rate.Europe's is 6.7 percent vis-a-vis a 2.6 percent inflation.Middle East countries' healthcare cost is projected to leap the most this year at 14.9 percent against their average inflation of 6.1 percent.Latin America, meanwhile, is expected to suffer a 13.5 percent rise in healthcare cost, against its foreseen inflation of 5.6 percent.

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