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Press Release

UAE medical insurance costs expected to rise by 8% in 2021

Dip in global cost rises this year as COVID-19 hit uptake of medical and health services

October 26, 2020

Health and Benefits
Risque de pandémie

DUBAI, October 26, 2020 — Employer-sponsored medical insurance costs are expected to increase by 8% in the UAE next year, following a year in which the pandemic has shaken health care demand and overall costs globally, according to research by Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW), a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company.

Its 2021 Global Medical Trends Survey, the largest of its kind, found that medical insurers globally report that health care benefit cost increases have slowed from 7.2% in 2019 to 5.9% this year, but are expected to climb to 8.1% in 2021. The dip this year is largely due to the cancellation of medical appointments and elective, non-emergency treatment during the global pandemic, which placed huge stress on health care infrastructure in many markets.

In the UAE, the trend has fallen from 9% in 2019 to 8% in 2020, and is forecast to remain at 8% in 2021. COVID-19 has reduced utilization of health care services through the lockdown period in the UAE and, whilst there has been some rebound from delayed treatments, that lower demand is expected to continue into next year, even as confidence and access gradually return. Also, insurers in the UAE picked up some elements of COVID-19 related costs in 2020, and so are not expecting a significant uplift in 2021 trend.

Another explanation for costs in 2021 remaining at 2020’s rate could be the anticipated fall in costs from the new approach to health services costing in Dubai. This is based on Diagnostic Related Groups (DRGs), a method of clustering services to avoid over-utilization and charging which has had a positive impact on health spending in other parts of the world.

Steve Clements, Head of Global Services and Solutions for the Middle East, Willis Towers Watson, said:

“Health care costs in the UAE have been more stable through the pandemic than in some countries, but COVID-19 has been a huge disruptor and we expect some volatility and uncertainty to remain in 2021.

“The pandemic has delayed non-urgent surgeries and appointments, and there is a lot of catching up to do in 2021 and beyond. The virus will continue to cause great uncertainty in many countries as cases continue to rise, while the roll-out, costs, and efficacy of any future vaccine remain unclear.

There has been a huge impact on mental health and wellbeing during 2020 and many repercussions will likely be felt into 2021.”

Steve Clements,
Senior Director Global Services and Solutions

“There has also been a huge impact on mental health and wellbeing throughout the pandemic and many repercussions will likely be felt into 2021. Our survey found that four in 10 respondents predict mental health conditions will be among the three most common conditions affecting health care costs within the next 18 months.”

The study also found that over two-thirds (67%) of respondents expect medical costs will continue to accelerate over the next three years.

of Middle East and Africa insurers expect higher medical trends over the next three years

Almost 90% of Middle East and Africa insurers expect higher medical trends over the next three years, and that figure was lower at 77% in Europe. Only 40% of Asia Pacific insurers expect a higher medical trend.

Steve Clements added: “Health care continues to get more expensive globally, and in the Middle East we are not exempt. The global focus on health and wellbeing caused by the pandemic will prompt many companies and individuals to take a long hard look at their medical cover to ensure that it is adequate for their changing needs, whilst still affordable.

“More positively, coronavirus has greatly accelerated the use of telehealth and virtual appointments. This could help to offset any future higher costs and offer more efficient access to patients, though it may also increase demand and hence overall costs.”

Global medical trends: Health care benefit cost growth, 2019 – 2021

+Global and regional trend rates are weighted based on GDP per capita. Due to the hyperinflationary nature of the Venezuelan economy, Venezuela has been excluded from Latin America regional and global totals.

Global and regional rates from the global medical trend survey results
2019 2020 2021 projected
Global+ 7.2% 5.9% 8.1%
North America 5.6% 2.8% 7.1%
Latin America+ 10.8 9.0% 13.6%
Asia Pacific 7.5% 6.2% 8.5%
Europe 5.6% 4.2% 5.8%
Middle East/Africa 8.6% 8.7% 10.0%
UAE 9.0% 8.0% 8.0%

About the survey

The Willis Towers Watson 2021 Global Medical Trends Survey was conducted between July and September 2020 and reflects responses from 287 leading medical insurers operating in 76 countries. The survey can be seen here.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 45,000 employees serving more than 140 countries and markets. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential.

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