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Insurers expect the costs associated with employer-sponsored medical benefits programs in India to rise by 15% in 2022, according to a report released today by Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB).

The highest increase anticipated in the Asia region – at three times the predicted general inflation rate for India – it would mark the third consecutive year of double-digit increases in the country since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The MMB Health Trends report surveys 210 insurers globally, including 74 in Asia, and identifies key trends influencing the future of employer-provided medical benefits. The results show that five countries in Asia experienced higher medical trend rates than the regional average (8.8%) in 2021. India had the highest medical inflation rate of 14%, followed by China (12%), Indonesia (10%), Vietnam (10%), and the Philippines (9%). Overall, 81% of insurers in Asia indicated an upward trend in medical claims activity in 2021, even though 53% of insurers reported lower medical claims than pre-pandemic levels.

In India, nearly 5.8 million die from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) every year. The report reveals that cancer (55%), diseases of the circulatory system (43%), and COVID-19 (36%) were the top cost drivers of medical claims in Asia in 2021, while respiratory diseases (47%), gastrointestinal diseases (36%) and COVID-19 (34%) are healthcare conditions that experienced the most frequent claims.

Commenting on the same, Joan Collar, Asia Regional Leader, Mercer Marsh Benefits, commented, “Costs have soared despite lower levels of medical treatment than before the pandemic, a trend exacerbated by deferred healthcare treatments that for many have resulted in more adverse outcomes, leading to higher costs. Reducing NCDs remains a key priority for employers for the health of their employees and their business. More than ever, employer-sponsored medical benefits should be viewed as an investment in employees’ wellbeing. Employees who feel their employer cares about their health and well-being are more motivated, productive, committed, and loyal.”

Prawal Kalita, Mercer Marsh Benefits Leader, Marsh India, said, “Rising insurance claims could potentially lead to higher premiums, tighter underwriting practices, or policy exclusions. To address the root cause of rising medical claims and the impact of non-communicable diseases on employees in India, benefit plans need to integrate outpatient department treatments, critical illness coverage, and wellness programs, in order to support colleagues in a more holistic manner.”

How Are Current Medical Claims Trending?

Gaps remain in mental health coverage though inclusive benefits increase

Of all global regions, the report identified Asia as having the most inadequate coverage in relation to mental health with only 34% of insurers providing coverage for outpatient treatments in mental health, and just 21% providing coverage for preventive mental health measures. Moreover, 32% do not offer any coverage for mental health services, reflecting a huge protection gap between access to benefits against the burden of mental health risks.

However, the study shows that 33% of insurers are making changes to facilitate more inclusive medical plan designs by allowing coverage for the non-permanent or full-time workforce with 54% either adding or considering extending eligible expenses that are more inclusive for women.

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Author: Howard Caldwell