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Supporting expatriates through turbulent times

Health and Benefits
COVID 19 Coronavirus

By James Leung | July 10, 2020

A sustainable expatriate benefit program can provide security and boost wellbeing

Even — and maybe especially — in the midst of the current pandemic, getting international benefits right will be more critical than ever for multinational organisations. It’s imperative that benefit plans for these key employees provide support and counseling for employee health and wellbeing, as well as access to medical advice through telemedicine.

And given the current underlying and anticipated economic challenges, employers are understandably more cost-conscious. Through our research, with employers as well as International Private Medical Insurance (IPMI) providers, as well as our client work, we’ve developed key insights into this rapidly evolving space:

Benefits coverage

Since the pandemic, concerns related to employee benefits in Asia Pacific have mostly been related to coverage for testing and treatment of COVID-19. Immediate concerns have been related to potential coverage exclusions, determination of whether there is a need for supplemental cover, and to confirm availability of services to support employees for their emotional wellbeing. Additional concerns have been related to continuity of medical cover due to employment uncertainty.

Supporting employees’ emotional health

The various effects of the pandemic — including the prolonged impact of working from home, individuals’ anxiety and worries about their own health and job security — have all caused an increase in demand for programs such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that provide mental and emotional support for employees.

figure 1 shows an array of benefits offered by global employers
Figure 1: Global employers offer an array of benefits to support wellbeing

Telemedicine and virtual consultation

Due to the highly contagious nature of the COVID-19 virus, telemedicine has become a popular alternative for seeking medical advice and care rather than traditional visits to medical clinics. One should consider, however, that telemedicine is not feasible for ongoing treatment of medical conditions, but rather can help triage the care from virtual to clinic-based care as necessary.

Prevalence of expatriate health and wellbeing benefits

Typical health and wellbeing benefits for expatriates include healthcare, life, accident and disability coverage. In both our 2017 and 2019 IME surveys, nearly all survey participants offered international (IPMI) plans rather than home or host country plans for their international assignees.

figure 2 shows provisions for expatriate benefit plans
Figure 2: Provisions for expatriate benefit plans
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Given the escalating costs for healthcare globally, more employers are considering employee cost-sharing in order to continue offering competitive coverage at a manageable cost. We expect this trend to continue given the growing economic concern.

Balancing benefits and premium costs through program design

Local Plus (high-end medical) plan designs — which offer more than a typical local plan, but are scaled back from a full IPMI offering — are gaining popularity. The increased adoption of Local Plus plans has been especially notable in key Asia markets such as China, Hong Kong SAR, Singapore, and in Latin America. They offer not only the ability to localize plans but are also more affordable, with up to a 25% premium differential compared to traditional IPMI plans.

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Head of Expatriate Benefits and High-end Medical Solutions
Health & Benefits, Asia & Australasia

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