Employer healthcare costs to rise

mental health

According to a new survey carried out by Willis Towers Watson (WTW), mental health is to be a major factor driving the rise of employer healthcare costs

WTW’s research – the 2020 Global Medical Trends Survey Report– identified that, ultimately, changes in healthcare costs, which differed across the five regions studied, were minimal, varying only moderately from previous years. Europe will experience an increase of 0.1 per cent, from 4.2 to 4.3 per cent; and Latin America a slight decrease from 12.2 per cent to 11.7 per cent. Indeed, the most notable change is in the Middle East and Africa, where the increase if projected to be 0.8 per cent.

But still, and as Cecil Hemingway, WTW Managing Director of Health and Benefits, notes: “Despite regional variation, cost increases continue to outpace inflation and remain unsustainable, making affordability a challenge.”

So, to what can we attribute these costs? WTW’s survey highlighted that while cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and conditions affecting musculoskeletal and connective tissue remain the top three conditions by cost – at 83 per cent, 55 per cent and 46 per cent respectively – there is a new trend identified in the 2019 report. “Within the next five years,” it reads, “27 per cent of health insurers predicted that mental and behavioural conditions will be among the three most common conditions, and 26 per cent predict that they will be among the three most expensive.”

In a separate report, titled The mounting crisis of mental health, which provided a commentary on the findings of the 2020 Global Medical Trends Survey Report, statistics reveal that mental health disorders are common in the workforce globally, with around three in 10 employees suffering from severe stress, anxiety or depression; and that of those people who are affected by a mental disorder at some point in their life, nearly two-thirds never seek help from a health professional.

The report adds: “Behavioural and mental health conditions are now the third most costly medical condition behind pharmacy and hospital or inpatient care. Given that pharmacy costs have already been identified in previous iterations of the report as a significant source of concern and that inpatient care is obviously expensive, this rate of increase is a matter of real concern. Whether it reflects greater awareness, more accurate reporting or perhaps another unknown factor, only time will tell.”

Elsewhere, the 2020 Global Medical Trends Survey Report cites the overuse of care (by practitioners offering too many services or insured’s overusing the service) and the implementation of new technology as some of the prime factors driving the increase in medical costs.

As such, WTW noted that controlling healthcare costs would likely be a huge priority for medical insurers and employers across the globe. “Employers that take steps now to understand the factors driving up costs and evaluate how they deliver healthcare benefits will be better positioned to manage costs in the years ahead,” said Hemingway.