Employer-sponsored healthcare benefit cost trends are expected to increase by 14.4% on average in the Philippines in 2022, according to a survey of medical insurers. Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW), a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company, conducted the 2022 Global Medical Trends Survey. The projected healthcare benefit costs declined in 2020 at 6.4% before rebounding to 16.4% in 2021.
In Asia, costs are expected to increase by 7.6%. With COVID-19 surging in different countries at various times in 2020 and 2021, survey results showed the pandemic’s asymmetrical arc created considerable volatility in healthcare utilization and costs around the world.
When comparing specific markets in APAC, insurers expect cost trends to be as high as 16.2% in Malaysia and 23.5% in India this year, while in China, Singapore and Vietnam, the increase are projected at 8.3% and 9% respectively according to the research. Looking ahead, medical insurers expect healthcare cost trends to accelerate beyond 2022, with six in ten projecting higher or significantly higher costs over the next three years.
Global medical trends: Healthcare benefit cost growth, 2020 – 2022
+Global and regional trend rates are weighted based on GDP per capita. (Due to the hyperinflationary nature of the Venezuelan economy, Venezuela has been excluded from Latin America regional and global totals.)
“COVID-19 has produced the biggest impact to global medical trend variation the industry has seen, and we expect the resultant repercussions and volatility to extend into 2022 and beyond,” said Cedric Luah, Head of Health and Benefits, International, Willis Towers Watson. “Markets and employers are feeling the impact differently. Some have experienced the recovery’s demand for regular medical services in 2021, while others will see it next year or after. The pandemic, combined with the changing face of work, has had a significant effect on healthcare needs, delivery of services and the future drivers of medical claims, which in turn will have impact on medical inflation trends.”
The leading driver of medical costs continues to be overuse of care (64%) due to medical professionals recommending too many services or overprescribing. Excess of care by insured members (59%) is the second leading driver. The underuse of preventive services (38%) is also a significant cost driver and increased year-over-year due to, in part, the avoidance of medical care during the pandemic.
Insurers in APAC named cancer (76%), cardiovascular (62%) and musculoskeletal (48%) as the top three conditions by cost, identical to last year’s findings. They have also ranked musculoskeletal, and mental and behavioural disorders as two of the fastest growing conditions by cost they expect to see over the next 18 months.
“COVID-19 has caused volatility in the trend numbers and in the leading causes of claims. The sedentary lifestyle that often accompanies working from home has also increased the risk of musculoskeletal injuries. For the first time ever, we are seeing musculoskeletal conditions as the leading claim incidence globally. As most employers can attest, mental health claims are also on the rise,” said Cedric.
Susan La Chica, Head of Health & Benefits, Philippines, WTW also added: “The mental wellbeing of employees continues to be a key employer focus. In the Philippines, the healthcare system has also pivoted to include virtual mental wellbeing support, largely to ensure that employees receive the quality healthcare support they need as they continue to work from home, both virtually and physically. Employers are also reviewing how wellbeing solutions, in general, can be incorporated as a core benefit item, seeking support from insurers or solutions provider like us.”
According to the survey, almost four in 10 insurers (35%) identified the addition of new wellbeing services as the biggest change organizations in APAC have made to their medical portfolios in 2021. This is followed by telehealth services (26%), underscored by the potential for cost reductions that virtual healthcare creates. Half of the insurers now offer telehealth across select plans, with 92% offering these services at no additional cost.
“It is likely that the adoption of telehealth will continue post-pandemic. In fact, the role of telehealth will continue to evolve not only as a digital platform for ease of access to the right care but also as an effective way to close the gap in accessing healthcare services. In addition, we expect the scope of services provided by these health-tech to expand further into wellbeing offerings, including but not limited to mental health services, given the impact of COVID on emotional wellbeing of employees,” said Susan.