In a country such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), living the expat life is an exciting sojourn. With world-class infrastructure and the best of everything, what more could anyone ask for? Expats, however, also place a lot of importance on having access to the best quality healthcare services and ensure complete peace of mind that they will be taken care of in their adopted country – be it in the UAE or anywhere else.
In today’s global economy, hiring and retaining a diverse workforce is a competitive necessity, ensuring provision of the best of health insurance coverage for expats is a critical mandate for companies. Especially in an expat-dominated country like the UAE. It also falls in line with the UAE government’s commitment to the cause, which made health insurance compulsory for every local and expatriate resident in the country a few years back.
When the pandemic swept everyone off their feet, the importance of health insurance for everyone, including expats, was further reinforced. The pandemic led healthcare systems around the world to respond in ways like never before. Furthermore, it forced expats to reflect on their readiness to handle unexpected events – making them more resilient and robust to cope with the challenge they faced, and would face in the future.
Localisation and compliance are key differentiators when tackling a new international market
While the UAE effectively led itself and many other countries through its proactive measures and initiatives to combat the impact of Covid-19, everyone realised the critical role of robust healthcare insurance – not just for the people, but the system itself.
Cigna always believed that localisation and compliance are key differentiators in a market like the UAE, and it was committed to bringing the best healthcare experiences to its customers. The need – particularly in the wake of the pandemic – was to develop competitively priced products and services that address the needs of the market. For health insurers, this means improving access to care, customising plans to meet diverse client requirements and enhancing the ability of employers to manage employee costs and expectations across the board.
High-value care should always be an insurer’s biggest selling point
While accessibility is an important driver in client and customer relationships, an insurer’s biggest selling point should be delivering high-value care. Access to good-quality healthcare should be affordable and predictable. This led us to launch SmartCare by Cigna. The product, launched in the Middle East, made healthcare more accessible to a larger segment of audience.
In the past two years, we have seen that employers and individuals are now more engaged than ever when it comes to understanding and choosing health insurance products that are right for their employees. The annual Cigna 360 Well-being Survey, for instance, showed that employees were concerned about their health insurance – with 58 per cent looking for enhanced cover, but only 33 per cent receiving it.
In other words, while the employers wanted affordable healthcare plans, the employees wanted access to the best quality care. More importantly, this brought the important conversation about prevention and wellness to the fore.
How has the situation evolved post-Covid?
The health insurance sector is starting to see claim patterns returning to pre-pandemic levels in the UAE after two years of evolving market conditions. While cross-border claims remain volatile as some countries continue to wage their battles with Covid variants, the emergence of virtual care delivery is a critical component to ensuring ongoing access to care for our clients and customers.
Cigna has also partnered with LVL Wellbeing to empower customers to be healthier and happier. In fact, we have also continued to make telehealth and mental health resources easier to access. As per the 360 Well-being Survey, the UAE was among the most enthusiastic markets globally in adoption of virtual health, with 69 per cent of UAE-based respondents preferring virtual access to therapy. The high penetration of mobile access in the region is one of the reasons supporting this preference for virtual health.
An increasing focus on preventative care and specialist medical services
Overall, the insurance sector is set to mature further owing to the pressing need to focus on preventive care, stronger public-private partnerships, a rise in specialist medical services, and more efficiently integrated healthcare solutions in the future.
Again, the proactive foresight and steps to widen the scope of mandatory insurance law across the UAE provided a much-needed boost to the health insurance market in the country and the wider region. The sector is set for a growth spurt fuelled by rising levels of awareness on health insurance, strengthening healthcare offerings, a maturing regulatory environment, infrastructure development, and growing consumer base.
While the demographics of the expat population have changed post-Covid, we have not seen a drop in the number of expat workers overall. The pandemic has only seen a different profile of overseas worker emerge – a greater proportion of working expats are women (45 per cent in 2021 vs 40 per cent in 2020) and singles (28 per cent in 2021 vs 25 per cent in 2020).
By welcoming a diverse group of workers, businesses in the UAE can build a more globally representative company that enables them to unlock new, global opportunities. It’s essential that there are robust support structures and packages in place to help expats adapt to, and feel a part of, the local culture and community.
Having a good work/life balance is the key priority for many expats
Among other parameters, having a good work/life balance is a key talking point among expats, with the always-on culture taking a toll. According to the 360 Well-Being Survey, women have been hard hit on this front, with added responsibilities due to the evolved work culture impacting their work/life arrangements. In spite of this, 58 per cent of women in the UAE exhibited high resilience, especially amongst the 18 to 34-year-olds, as compared to men in the UAE (54 per cent) and women globally (43 per cent).
A good work/life balance directly promotes health and wellbeing, and public awareness in this regard is rising. Professionals are learning to take breaks, spend quality time with family, and attempt to maintain the right balance between work and personal life.
HR and business leaders need to put systems in place that support their expat’s wellbeing today, while also helping them to plan adequately for the future. Programmes that track working hours can be incredibly valuable to help identify those who could benefit from greater support and expert advice to plan for the future.
Additional wellbeing support that goes above and beyond can also help their expat workforce manage stress. Wellbeing applications by healthcare providers may include global telehealth consultations, confidential counselling sessions and stress management support. Providing financial planning education and retirement support can also help ease expat employees’ worry about their family finances.
Expat health insurance should be robust and flexible to serve a range of demands
Enhanced health insurance that covers the expat employees, their spouses and children, alongside a robust employee support programme, is essential for overseas workers. As they stay overseas, the type of support they need will evolve – from short-term adjustment to long-term planning, including a demand for a flexible work environment, be it hybrid work models or remote working opportunities.
Offering the flexibility to add optional benefits to their package – such as mental health support, to provide more comprehensive support to themselves and their family – is also increasing in importance. Employers that can demonstrate a commitment to providing holistic benefits packages and a flexible working environment to their expat employees will remain competitive in the long term.
The formula is simple. Regardless of whether the employee is going abroad for a few months or several years, whether the employee will stay in one country or will be travelling the world; the cover will move on with the employee and offer protection during their deployment without any restrictions on time and location.
It is crucial for global employers to cater to the dynamic needs of their employees and to modify and customise relocation programmes and services. An employee that is quickly made to feel comfortable and ‘at home’ will no doubt emerge more productive and become an asset on which the employer can count.