To successfully hire skilled international talent in Singapore, companies must look beyond local health coverage plans for their employees
A gateway to Asia, Singapore is an important strategic location for many multinational corporations. This, in turn, has resulted in an influx of foreign employees or expatriates into the city-state as large global companies expand their operations in the region.
Medical benefits has become among the most important considerations for foreign talent – as well as local – in an employer’s offering. The recent 2019 Singapore Health and Benefits International Medical Study, conducted by Mercer Marsh Benefits, provides a snapshot of the current international medical benefit limits provided by employers in Singapore.
The study revealed that all 56 companies surveyed reported providing inpatient benefits, with 98 per cent providing outpatient benefits. Among the companies surveyed, 82 per cent provided wellness benefits, including regular health checks, cancer screening, cardiovascular examinations, neurological examinations, vital sign tests and vaccinations.
Inpatient benefits are a standard module and a minimum requirement in such plans. This benefit entitles employees to an all-paid hospitalization expense, incurred either due to sickness or accident. This type of benefit is prevalent in all industry segments in Singapore, including material and industrial, finance, consumer services, professional and other services, and technology.
Outpatient benefits account for 60 percent or more of the overall benefits utilization. Therefore, much of these benefits are limited to an overall annual maximum limit per policy year, excluding 36 per cent of plans that have individual sub-limits. Our findings suggest companies need to consider this carefully when restructuring their medical plan, as high outpatient limits will impact overall claims spend.
Another critical module that makes international medical plans critical is the existence of emergency medical evacuation benefits. This benefit is provided to employees in the case of a required treatment in a life-threatening situation and where services are not available in their current location. This type of benefit is mostly prevalent in the material and industrial sector (100 per cent), followed by finance (93 per cent) and consumer services (91 per cent).
Employers in Singapore also recognise the benefits of preventative care and have included regular health checkups including cancer screening, cardiovascular examinations, neurological examinations, vital sign tests and vaccinations. Among wellness benefits, checkups such as vision and hearing examinations are most common (43 per cent), followed by health screenings and vaccinations for both adults and children (33 per cent).
For some time, Singapore has attracted and welcomed foreign talent, which has contributed substantially to its economic success. Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing recently alluded to the importance of skilled global talent to the city-state: “Singapore must continue to welcome global talent to work alongside Singaporeans in globally competitive teams and advance the frontiers of innovation together,” he said. He added that it is essential for Singapore to assure companies that “they will have access to highly-skilled global talent” to continue to encourage expansion into the country.
Companies must, however, need to help themselves, too.
According to Mercer’s 2019 Cost of Living Ranking, Singapore is the third-most expensive city in the world for expatriates. Given the particularly high living costs in Singapore, the provision of adequate medical coverage is essential for companies to attract and retain talent.
A key constraint of medical insurance in Singapore is that of poor servicing provided by local insurance suppliers, as most of them are ill-equipped to manage the claims and their complexities. The limited adequacy of local medical plans can, therefore, be a deterrent, and as a result companies without an international medical plan are likely to have difficulty enticing talent to relocate to Singapore.
Many of the benefits challenges faced by companies in Singapore can be resolved by leveraging the provisions of international medical insurance. These include:
Another unique benefit accrued from international medical plans is inpatient psychiatric coverage, something usually excluded in local insurance plans in Singapore. Companies can also provide workplace health initiatives such as mindfulness training, fitness programs, and flexible working schedules, to help reduce levels of stress, burnouts and absenteeism.
Companies must fully understand their demographic profiles and provide insurance coverage that is well-aligned with their corporate objectives. The benefits should be fit-for-purpose, flexible and adequate in meeting employee needs and concerns. By leveraging international medical plans, employers stand to provide a much more consistent employee benefits program, which, in turn, will improve their retention of global talent.
In a faster and more digitized world, the benefits of a concierge service and online communication provide much-needed respite during claims submissions for high-cost treatments. A well thought out international health insurance plan provides expatriates or local employees the benefits they expect when asked to relocate or travel internationally, with peace of mind. We believe organizations should be designing health benefits plans that fit their employees’ growing needs.
Neil Narale is a partner and health leader at Mercer Marsh Benefits, an award-winning global health and wellness consultancy. Neil's client responsibilities centre on helping multinational and local organisations manage their employee health and benefit offerings from a regional and local perspective. Neil received his Bachelor's of Science degree in Mathematics and Statistics from the University of Western Ontario. He is a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries (US) and a Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries.
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