Rising costs of employers’ health plans given unhealthy habits, lifestyles ‘worrisome’
One of the main benefits that a company offers its employees is the medical plan.
But, according to the findings of an international report prepared by Aon — a professional services company offering a wide range of solutions in terms of risks, human resources and health — maintaining the continuity of this benefit is increasingly costly, mainly due to the population’s “unhealthy habits and lifestyles.”
Therefore, there is a tendency toward promoting prevention and welfare programs, the study concluded.
“The variation in the costs of medical plans employers offer has an influence on the island’s economy, due to the impact it has on the budget of companies looking to maintain health programs for their employees,” said Maricarmen Burgos, leader of Aon’s group benefits business, citing data from the “2018 Global Medical Trend Rates” study.
According to the study, it is expected that by 2018 inflation in medical services in Puerto Rico will be 7.2 percent, which maintains its downward trend, compared to 8.0 percent and 7.5 percent observed in 2016 and 2017, respectively. At the Latin American level, this behavior marks a clear trend in the fluctuation of health costs that, in the last five years, has doubled the general index of inflation.
“The cost of medical services continues to grow due to many factors, mainly the aging of the population, the decline of health in general, unhealthy habits and lifestyles, and the increase in the use of the plans provided by employers in many countries,” Burgos said.
The study shows that, in Puerto Rico, the three main conditions that increase medical costs are cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and respiratory diseases. The risk factors that are expected to be drivers of medical expenses in 2018 are cancer, musculoskeletal conditions and cardiovascular conditions.
Companies take measures in favor of the employee
In Puerto Rico, significant changes are foreseen in corporate strategies to minimize the increases in medical costs. For 2017, the companies changed medical plan designs, shared costs and supplier networks to offset rising costs, the study concluded.
While companies on the island planned to revise their cost-sharing strategies in 2018, due to the impact of Hurricane Maria and the economic situation, most employers have decided to freeze or maintain cost-sharing during the current year.
Likewise, employers at the local level say they are considering implementing discounts networks and welfare initiatives, the AON study showed.
Holistic solution based on prevention
To counteract this trend, more companies in Puerto Rico are incorporating wellness as part of a strategy to minimize increases in health costs. This includes the implementation of programs to encourage physical activity and healthy nutrition, with educational activities according to the concepts of physical fitness.
Advanced evaluations, educational plans that include communication materials, health specialists programs, coaches and incentive programs, wellness interventions related to healthy eating, cessation of smoking, physical activity, healthy weight, back care, reduction of heart disease and employee assistance programs, are also taken into consideration, the study showed.