The number of multinational companies that are taking a global approach to mitigate “lifestyle diseases” will double by 2012 finds a new survey by Towers Watson. The Workforce Health Strategies: A Multinational Perspective report found that while only about 26 percent of multinational companies has a global health strategy in place today, an equal number plan to implement a global health strategy by 2012. Among companies that currently have a global health strategy in place, 74 percent apply that strategy to 95 percent of their employees or more, and 71 percent apply it to all the countries where they have significant business operations.
Another revealing trend is the high number of multinationals that offer employer-sponsored health care coverage overseas. The survey data also show that 77 percent of the companies surveyed offer employee health programs in lieu of, or in addition to, publicly provided programs in all or most of the countries in which they operate. The role of this supplementary coverage is to either “top up” the local socialized system or fill an important gap in countries where there is a significant deficit in the public health system.
“Contrary to popular belief, the United States is not the only country where employer-sponsored, private health care coverage is the norm,” said Nicole Serfontein, senior international consultant with Towers Watson. “However, the tools used to manage health risks in the United States are not yet as prevalent or developed elsewhere. This not only hinders many multinationals from effectively mitigating these risks, it also could lead to a U.S.-like escalation in employer health care costs.”
With chronic conditions, stress and behavioral issues driving medical inflation, multinationals are beginning to shift the focus of their global health care programs from the cost of care to the prevention of illness. Many companies indicate that stress (83%), chronic conditions (77%) and obesity (63%) can have a high or moderate impact on their health care costs and workforce productivity, but few multinationals today have implemented the tools to effectively manage them on a truly global basis.
According to the survey:
Only 40 percent of respondents provide case management programs (in most or all countries), which typically monitor, coordinate and help improve patient care, quality and costs for individuals with complex conditions.
Only 25 percent of companies provide disease management programs (in most or all countries) aimed at addressing chronic illnesses.
Just over 30 percent offer health promotion, health screenings and behavioral health programs in most or all countries.
Only 25 percent provide health risk assessments in most or all countries.
The slow adoption of many of these tactics is partly due to the challenges multinationals face when implementing them outside the United States. Survey respondents indicate that non-U.S. markets lack available or reliable health care cost data (51 percent), healthcare products and services (44 percent), and desired healthcare vendors (39 percent).
“To mitigate growing health care risks and associated costs as well as boost worker productivity, multinationals can increase their use of health strategies that are truly global,” said Francis Coleman, senior international consultant with Towers Watson. “In particular, forward-looking multinationals are using leading indicators of health and well-being to proactively and effectively focus their resources rather than react to the rising costs caused by lifestyle diseases and increased adoption of advanced medical technologies.”
Conducted in late 2009, the survey includes responses from 106 organizations that have at least 500 employees and significant business operations in more than one country. Ninety-three percent of the participating companies are based in North America and manage, on average, 25 health programs and operate in 20 countries around the world.