Insurers look to cost savings as inflation rates rise

Health insurers are increasingly turning to cost-saving initiatives such as guided referral routes, prevention and virtual consultations to help keep a lid on rising costs, according to a new survey from Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB).

The company’s 2019 Medical Trends Around the World report found that, globally, medical costs are running at around three times general inflation, averaging 9.7% in 2018. The rate of medical inflation is expected to be similar this year and could be higher still in 2020 as lifestyle factors drive increasing prevalence of cardiovascular, metabolic and mental health conditions worldwide.

In response, the number of insurers investing in initiatives to speed up access to the right care options has doubled, with 29% naming this type of investment as a top strategic priority. A further 63% of insurers said they were proactively using health education, tools and incentives to drive positive behaviour among members, while 78% are considering or already support virtual health consultations.

Now in its fifth year, the report surveyed 204 insurers across 59 countries to assess how health conditions, supplier factors and consumer habits are driving costs.

MMB international leader Hervé Balzano said: ‘Rising medical costs show no signs of abating. Indeed, according to our research a majority of insurers globally now believe that in 2020 medical inflation will either remain constant or increase.

‘The future of work demands healthy and engaged employees. As the cost of providing medical benefits continue to rise, employers should assess how to make the most of plan design, including giving access to quality-based care to drive better outcomes. Plans should be reviewed with both cost optimisation and employee engagement lenses.’