According to the 2019 Global Medical Trends Survey Report from Willis Tower Watson, insurers see the global medical trend as relatively stable with only modest increases. But several developments and forecasts are rolling in to cause a cloudy outlook.
“For 2019, the projected global, weighted medical trend is 7.6%, which continues to outstrip general inflation by a factor of more than 2:1 on a global basis,” the report said. “However, this value is just 0.5% higher than the reported value for 2018, with no increase at all expected in Europe.”
Pharmacy costs were an issue to watch for insurers, who agree that they will become an increasingly significant part of medical expenses over the next five years. The concern was cited by 66% of insurers in the Americas, while 52% of those in the Asia-Pacific agreed.
While the rising cost of pharmaceutical products has become a hotly discussed topic, insurers are also concerned about the manner in which treatment is being provided to patients. A 70% majority of respondents cited overuse of services, attributed to medical practitioners recommending them too much, as a factor driving per-person medical costs. The second most-cited driver of costs was an overuse of available care, something that insurers estimated was happening with 52% of insured members.
Another concern stems from the high cost of new medical technologies, which 65% of insurers thought was among the top three accelerators of medical costs. Forty-eight per cent thought it was mainly caused by providers with a profit motive. And while there is some fear of the rising incidence and impact of large-scale claims, only 15% saw it as among the top three causes of higher costs.
When asked to identify the top conditions behind the highest incidence and cost of claims in medical client portfolios, 54% of respondents worldwide named circulatory conditions as the leading cause. Another 49% cited musculoskeletal conditions, which was a dramatic rise from preceding years. Cancer also made the list, with 42% of respondents saying it led to the most claims.
“Cancer continues to be the most expensive condition in each of the four regions,” according to the report. “The lowest figure was the 68% of insurers in the Americas who placed it among the top three conditions and the highest was 82% for the Middle East and Africa.”
Mental and behavioural disorders are also expected to grow in significance over the next five years as 33% of insurers surveyed around the world agreed mental illness would be among the top three conditions within that time. Another growing health concern comes from a rising incidence and cost of claims arising from diabetes, endocrine, nutritional, and metabolic diseases.
“[D]iabetes and other similar conditions are responsible for the high incidence and high costs of claims in the Americas, as well as the Middle East and Africa, in particular,” said the report. “In the US … 84 million Americans (one in three) have prediabetes and 90% are unaware of it.”
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