The 2022 Global Medical Trends Survey reveals considerable variation in healthcare cost increases around the world. With COVID-19 cases surging in different countries at different times in 2020 and 2021, the uneven trajectory of the pandemic created considerable volatility in healthcare utilization and costs. After dropping to 4.8% in 2020 and rebounding to 8.1% this year, the projected healthcare benefit cost trend is expected to continue at a similar level for 2022, at a global average of 8.1%; however, volatility is more marked at an individual country level due to the uncertainties with the ongoing effects of COVID-19, which is expected to extend into 2022.
Average increases across different regions next year are expected to range from 14.2% in Latin America to 10.6% in the Middle East and Africa to 7.6% in Asia Pacific to 6.7% in Europe. The average medical trend in the U.S. is projected at 7.6% in 2022 based on other Willis Towers Watson research.
Healthcare costs are expected to continue to accelerate beyond 2022, with over three-quarters of health insurers anticipating higher or significantly higher medical trend over the next three years. Eighty-six percent of insurers in Europe expect higher or significantly higher medical trend over this time period as do 82% of insurers in the Middle East and Africa, 74% of insurers in Latin America and 64% of Asia Pacific insurers.
The pandemic has helped accelerate the adoption of telehealth, with over half of insurers globally now offering telehealth across all plans with the associated potential for reductions in cost that virtual healthcare can bring. In this year’s survey, we devote a special section on the evolving role of telehealth in helping to manage medical trend and expediting access to effective care.
Respondents ranked musculoskeletal disorders, potentially attributable to poor ergonomics in employees’ work-from-home environment, as the top condition by incidence of claims followed by cardiovascular diseases and respiratory conditions. In the 2021 survey, insurers ranked musculoskeletal disorders as number five.
Cancer, which in prior surveys held the top spot, dropped to number five by incidence likely due to deferred treatments during the pandemic; however, cancer continues to be a top condition affecting medical costs, followed by cardiovascular and musculoskeletal disorders.
Insurers expect mental and behavioral disorders to be the fastest-growing condition by incidence in the next 18 months, followed by cancer and musculoskeletal disorders. And insurers expect cancer to be the fastest-growing condition by cost in the next 18 months, followed by cardiovascular and musculoskeletal disorders.
Gaps in coverage persist for conditions that are prevalent in the covered population and for which treatments exist. Over half of group policies, regardless of size, have exclusions for HIV/AIDS (54% to 56%) as well as alcoholism and drug use (52% to 53%). Employers should continue to try to remove these exclusions and leverage their consultants/brokers to help negotiate inclusion coverages that are part of global benefit philosophies and of critical value to many employees.
Insurers ranked contracted networks of providers (75%) and preapproval for scheduled inpatient services (67%) as the top two cost management methods. Telehealth (63%) moved up from number five in last year’s survey to number three, suggesting that more insurers are recognizing the potential for improved cost management through remote diagnosis and treatment of patients.
Overuse of care by medical practitioners (64%) recommending too many services continues to be the most significant factor contributing to rising medical costs related to employee/provider behavior. Fifty-nine percent of insurers also think that overuse of care by insureds is driving up costs.
COVID-19 has produced the biggest impact to global medical trend variation the industry has seen. Nevertheless, we expected the impact and volatility from COVID-19 to extend into 2022 and beyond. Countries and employers are experiencing the impact at different times and rates. For some countries the impact of a recovery in demand of regular medical services will occur in 2021, while for others this might not happen until 2022 or 2023. COVID-19, combined with the changing face of the work environment, has had a significant impact on medical trend, service delivery and the future drivers of medical claims.
Willis Towers Watson conducts the Global Medical Trends Survey every year between July and September. A total of 209 leading insurers representing 61 countries participated in our 2022 survey. Global results presented here have been weighted using GDP per capita. The U.S. medical trend data are drawn from the Willis Towers Watson National Trend Survey.
Note: Percentages do not add to 100 due to rounding.
|2022 Global Medical Trends Survey Report