Healthcare insight and trends by AXA Global

AXA launched its interactive Global Healthcare Virtual Conference this March, which incorporated discussions and insights from AXA’s leaders and representatives across the world on the recent trends they’ve noticed and their thoughts on how best to navigate the future terrain – essentially, a de-brief on the extraordinary last 12 months the industry has had to adapt to.

As well as taking the opportunity to showcase their upcoming International Health Insurance plans, the conference mostly centred around: “The World of Work” – their latest annual report to have been commissioned. Its aims: to discover what international working looks like today and how this information can help HR decision makers better meet the needs of their assignees and prevent overseas assignments from failing. Over the course of a couple of days AXA explored a range of subjects surrounding the challenges the future may bring and how they expect the role of healthcare providers to change. They also raised questions like: What complexities has the pandemic created? Are placements still viable for global businesses? And ultimately, do employees still want to go?

Covid-19 impact on businesses

The head of AXA’s Global reinsurance partnerships in Singapore; Laurent Pochat‑Cottilloux, shared his insights on the impact Covid-19 has had on the business which were particularly interesting. From his viewpoint, policy retention remained stable throughout the outbreak although, new business took a hit as assignments were cancelled or brought to an end earlier than planned. All in all, people have been much less inclined to look at new policies or think about switching providers. To back up this point he added that sadly, one in five ex-pats left Singapore in 2020 and he thinks it unlikely those numbers will return, predicting at least five years before they see similar numbers in Singapore again.  Of course, with social distancing a new must, the way we sell has changed: Face-to-face selling has not been an option and consequently, an up-tick in telesales has been noted.  In terms of claims costs, he described a significantly drop, in comparison to those seen in 2019, as people have been avoiding medical centres, either by choice or government order. Elective, non-emergency and wellbeing claims have dramatically reduced and though the cost of severe Covid-19 cases can be high, these costs are usually funded by local healthcare systems. Furthermore, in the worst hit areas, private beds were requisitioned by governments for public use, so they have not seen the costs of hospital treatment filter through in claims as much as one might have expected. You can see further research from competing International Medical Insurance provider Cigna Global on the impact of covid-19 here

So, what does this mean for 2021 according to AXA?

AXA do expect to see a marked increase in claim submissions as we move toward the end of 2021 and medical services become safer to access and more widely available. Healthcare providers may need to hike their premiums up this year to cover the losses incurred from 2020. Yet, despite the impact this will have on claim costs, insurers are increasingly being asked to freeze their premiums. Therefore, to manage growing claims costs against static premiums, underwriters may increasingly have to ask for Covid-19 to be declared at enrolment. After all, we are still at the beginning of our Covid journey in many ways – only time will tell what the long-term effects of Covid-19 will really be on society.

How will technology start to play a larger role in healthcare? 

We know very well that the technology we use to communicate with now was exactly the same technology we had available to us a year ago, we’ve just been forced us to become more adept and accustomed to using it. The pandemic has massively accelerated our use of technology in healthcare as people have increasingly felt inclined to make use of virtual GP apps and International Employee Assistance Programs. Mental health issues have been widely talked about since the pandemic began and it’s estimated that one in five employees experience mental health problems during international work placements, so it’s no surprise that intermediaries have reported seeing their clients more willing to actively seek out virtual mental health support such as therapy and counselling. Communicating with medical professionals virtually appears to have become another one of our “new normals” and along with it, has come a greater realisation of the benefits of accessing our healthcare this way. In fact, AXA are reporting that 69% of people globally now say they would consider or even prefer virtual consultations – this really opens up the potential for these types of mental health provisions to start expanding rapidly across the world. It’s no surprise then, that AXA think technology will become an essential part of international assignments in the future. They responded to this same demand themselves by launching their MIND health service mid-pandemic and including a virtual doctor and second medical opinion service across all their individual and SME plans – you can read more about this here.

We know that we will never have enough healthcare professionals to meet the demands in our communities – we have a growing and ageing population, more chronic disease is to be expected. Additionally, we are seeing an increasing frequency of pandemics and environmental challenges. Therefore, we will need technology to bridge the gap if we are ever going to manage our health needs successfully as a society. Face-to-face medical treatment can never be fully replaced by technology, but it can certainly be used to enhance and streamline our medical services, and we will have to figure out the perfect balance between digital tools and human intervention in terms of accessing and delivering healthcare as time goes on.

For a long time now, people have been using apps to monitor their health and lifestyle, and more commonly we are seeing virtual technologies such as virtual assistants (or chat robots) in customer support settings with varying degrees of uptake and success, but naturally we expect this type of technology to progress. One theory shared toward the end of conference was that perhaps one day we will reach a point where we are able to integrate the information from all the different platforms we use, both public and private, into one single, medical database – where the information gathered by symptom checkers, unit calculators and lifestyle apps can be shared safely with doctors working in traditional healthcare settings to actually assist them in their diagnoses of patients, or even to spot trends and predict potential health crises (like pandemics) in the wider community.

So, what does the future hold?

In light of everything discussed over the course of the conference, the general consensus seemed to be that short-term assignments will probably become more common and in terms of health insurance premiums, affordability is likely to become a major customer pain point – medical inflation in the last five years has far surpassed GDP therefore, efficiency and quality will have to improve. Online healthcare services will become more popular as people become more accustomed to using them, and Virtual GP apps will consequently become more respected.

Overall, the closing message from the conference was positive: although there have been many challenges this last year, with change comes opportunity and most of the intermediaries participating remarked that they feel positive about the future. In Laurent’s words: “At least the world will be readier for the next pandemic. Hopefully”.

You can read the findings of the 2020 World of Work report here.

Axa Global Healthcare are a leading provider of health insurance for international employees and expat health insurance.

Contact the Engage Team for expert advice on International Employee Benefits and Health Insurance