Telehealth services will replace a lot of the in-person consultation in the post-COVID-19 environment. And there is more change coming. Image Credit: Supplied

Midway into 2021, a widespread vaccine rollout has instilled confidence in the global population. However, employers still face a conundrum on how to maximize efficiencies, keep costs under control, and safeguard employee health and wellbeing – a key contributor to business success and continuity – at the same time.

This is particularly challenging for SMEs, which lack the financial resources of larger organizations while depending on a small number of key staff. No two companies are the same, and neither are their health insurance requirements. Businesses need tailored health insurance plans that meet the needs of all their employees – because every need counts.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) data, stress-induced diseases due to long working hours kill 745,000 people a year. Working from home has made 95 per cent of people in the UAE attribute their stress to being always switched on, according to Cigna’s COVID-19 Global Impact Study 2020.

No shirking on mental health

Therefore, companies should provide their employees with mental health support as part of their healthcare insurance plans to enable them to manage their wellbeing while keeping up with their busy lifestyles. A dedicated employee assistance programme that offers confidential counselling over the phone or face-to-face can go a long way in this regard.

Such programmes cover a range of personal topics that are particularly relevant in these trying times, including coping with the loss of a loved one, managing anxiety and depression, solving relationship issues, dealing with workplace pressure, and achieving work-life balance.

Since the beginning of 2020, different models of care have become part of our new normal. Notably, the rise of virtual health has been accelerated by the pandemic, and this option is now widely requested as part of mainstream healthcare. We believe telehealth is here to stay, and will form a key component of the enhanced patient experience strategy for healthcare systems even after the pandemic. Therefore, it should be covered by employee health insurance plans.

Speed up pre-approvals

Also important are useful service features such as 24/7 customer support, digital ID cards that eliminate the need to carry physical insurance cards, clinical case managers who help members find the right care path, and pre-approvals issued within 30 minutes and communicated by SMS.

We have identified four key steps that employers must follow to select the right health insurance plan that addresses the critical nexus of cost, coverage and benefits. These focus on understanding the existing organizational and employee issues and selecting a plan that shows the most potential to be effective in resolving these issues. For multinationals, there is the additional consideration of finding a plan that will work equally well across regions.

First, companies must recognize the loss drivers for their business - whether healthcare costs, turnover rate or productivity - and determine whether they are relevant to only the organization, a segment of employees, or the industry at large. Second, they must develop a plan based on the loss driver analysis and ensure leadership support.

Outcome focussed

Next, they must set effective parameters to measure success, based on the loss drivers relevant to the organization. Most important, companies must carefully monitor employee feedback over time, and modify the plan based on the outcomes.

Here I must emphasize that affordable does not mean the cheapest. Perceived short-term savings gained from basic health insurance plans that cover the bare minimum often result in extra costs down the line in the form of employees’ prolonged sick leaves or even impaired work performance when they cannot afford to pay for the treatment they need out of their own pocket. Furthermore, health and financial worries lead to reduced productivity.

An affordable health insurance plan is one that provides employees with the quality care they need at the right cost. In addition to COVID-19 coverage that has become a must in these times, other evolving needs have emerged.

A successful company health insurance plan gives employees peace of mind, knowing that their insurance company has their back no matter what. It is up to employers to ensure that their plan does the job.