Employers in Singapore are grappling with the rising cost of staff health benefits while at the same time modifying their insurance benefits to attract and retain talent in a competitive, low wage growth market.
This was revealed by Mercer Marsh Benefits’ 2019 Singapore Health and Benefits Study, which examined the medical and risk plans of more than 400 employers covering 147,000+ employees.
“From providing inpatient psychiatric coverage, absorbing goods and services tax to removing 12-month pre-existing exclusions under medical insurance plans, companies in Singapore are increasingly turning to their benefits program to strengthen their value proposition and stay competitive in the current talent market,” said Neil Narale, Singapore Health Leader at Mercer Marsh Benefits.
“It is critical that their risk and medical benefits programs are aligned with the philosophy, priorities and values of the company, ensuring the needs of their people are met,” he said.
Among risk benefits, the study found that coverage for critical illness registered the highest increase in prevalence, up seven percent since 2017.
For medical benefits, hospital and surgical benefits remained the most commonly provided perk, with 96 percent of companies offering this coverage to their employees.
The provision of outpatient clinical and outpatient specialist benefits increased by 13 percent and 15 percent respectively, reflecting the gradual shift from self-funded arrangements to insurance to reduce the cost of paying a third-party administrator and claim expenses.
An exception to this, however, was a significant rise in the prevalence of self-funded benefits for vision and maternity care. In the two years leading to 2019, self-funded vision care rose from 35 percent to 58 percent, while self-funded maternity care more than doubled from 16 percent to 37 percent.
The rising cost of hospitalization also drove an increase in prevalence for ward-type plans, from 68 percent in 2017 to 83 percent in 2019.
“Amid a changing environment marked by medical cost inflation and an ageing workforce, the increasing prevalence of risk and medical benefits is a clear sign that employers are responding to the needs of their employees,” Mr Narale continued.
The study found that more companies are now focusing on a holistic and preventative well-being approach for employees by providing mental, financial and physical well-being programs. In addition to providing suitable standards of care to employees as an essential tool for increasing employee satisfaction and engagement, it is also imperative in talent attraction and retention. This was evident as 62 percent of companies collaborated with vendors to develop and deliver wellness programs, such as onsite health talks, onsite health screenings and weight management programs.
Companies are also beginning to look into more personalized and flexible benefits, such as dependent coverage and options for employees to adjust their benefit levels. This was especially true in larger companies, where a one-size-fits-all design does not cater to everyone’s needs.