How can employers improve their health and wellbeing offering to expatriate staff?

Need to know:

  • Expat health and wellbeing benefits include initiatives such as maternity and chronic conditions cover, as well as more traditional medical treatment.
  • More digital health and wellbeing services have evolved as a result of the pandemic and these are likely to remain a key part of support.
  • Health awareness has increased as a result of the pandemic, with this fuelling demand for long-term protection products, as well as more wellbeing support.

Sending employees overseas requires a significant investment so it makes sense to look after them while they’re away. Doing this during a pandemic is a challenge but it’s also driven a rethink in expatriate health and wellbeing support.

Differences in healthcare provision and employee expectations around the world mean that finding the perfect expatriate solution has never been easy. Sarah Dennis, head of international at Towergate Health and Protection, said: “There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for expatriate employee healthcare. Employers have to take into consideration what employees need but also factors such as what’s provided to the local workforce and whether there are any mandatory requirements.”

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The state of local healthcare will also affect decisions. William Cooper, head of marketing at William Russell, says that where local provision is poor, cover for medical evacuation is a must.

Expat packages

Destination may influence what’s offered but the importance of looking after expats means that cover is comprehensive. “Many organisations with global expat populations will offer coverage that aligns with the standard practice in more established healthcare markets such as the US, UK or Singapore, even if that level of cover is more comprehensive than the local market offering,” says Alana Rae, principal at Mercer Marsh Benefits.

As a result, as well as covering inpatient and outpatient treatments, international medical insurance policies often include benefit for chronic conditions, maternity, assisted fertility and dental treatment.

Wellbeing support is an important part of an expat package too. Dennis says that employees posted overseas will often look for creature comforts, with serious implications for their health. “Alcohol, weight and inactivity are big problems in global mobility so organisations are adding health information and coaching tools to encourage employees to lead healthier lifestyles,” she adds.

Pandemic support

Support was tested during the pandemic, with the spread of the virus and national lockdown requirements bringing new challenges. “During the first phase of the pandemic we had lots of enquiries from employers about whether they could extend cover if they brought people home or if they had to extend their stay in the host country,” says Alex Bender, global head of client and broker relationship management at Allianz Partners Health. “Everyone had to be flexible.”

After the initial scrabble, insurers and employers looked at how they could adapt support. Digital became the norm, with everything from GP appointments through to mental health support and fitness coaching delivered virtually. New services were added too, with Rae pointing to the long Covid pathways created by insurers as an example.

Covid-19 (Coronavirus) vaccinations also needed consideration. With different vaccines licensed around the world and availability sometimes patchy, Dennis says that employers had requests from expats wishing to travel for their jab. “One employer flew its expat employees from Kazakhstan to Dubai to get UK-recognised jabs and we’ve also seen employees return home and extend their stay to have the second jab,” she explains.

Post-pandemic strategy

The pandemic will also have a long-lasting effect on expat health and wellbeing provision. “Coronavirus has made everyone value health more than ever before,” says Patrick Watt, commercial director at Bupa Global. “When we conducted our Executive wellbeing index survey in May, it found that employee wellbeing is the number one priority for 28% of UK business leaders, with many expecting to increase spend in this area.”

Digital delivery remains a key part of expat programmes with services continuing to expand. For instance, Bupa Global launched its LifeWorks product in October 2021, bringing together an employee assistance programme with wellbeing content to allow employees to personalise wellbeing support.

Long-term health protection products such as life insurance and disability are also becoming a more common part of the expat package. “The pandemic has made people more aware of their own mortality but employers are also having to boost the benefits they offer,” says Cooper. “The job market is really competitive.”

As overseas assignments return, employers will need to select a health and wellbeing package that embraces employee expectations in the post-pandemic world.