The evolving nature of health insurance

  • Wellness
  • Sunday, 05 May 2019

Some insurance providers reward their clients for pursuing a healthy lifestyle, like walking and achieving a certain number of steps a day, as seen in this filepic.

Malaysians are definitely living longer. According to a 2018 life expectancy report by the World Health Organization (WHO), Malaysians now live an average of 75 years.

This is higher than the Malaysian life expectancy in 1990, which was 70 years.

But health issues have catapulted upward since then as well.

Between 2007 and 2017, the number of deaths caused by heart disease increased by 37%, colorectal cancer went up by two-thirds, and chronic kidney disease increased by 62%.

Longer life and a less healthy lifestyle has caused a change on multiple levels.

The Government has been encouraging Malaysians to make healthier lifestyle decisions, and while a number have dutifully answered the call, the year-on-year growth in disease numbers continues to dismay.

We now also face higher risk of living with disease caused by numerous factors, not least of which is the stress of daily modern life.

Cancer, diabetes, mental illness and other major medical conditions are growing more common.

As a result, healthcare insurance offerings have morphed to match.

Moving into AI

A few decades ago, insurance choices were a lot simpler than they are today; people picked from life or endowment plans, and paid their monthly premiums without question.

Insurance was a safeguard against unexpected death and a way to save money for the kids, with consumers happy to trust insurance companies.

But today’s digital age has obliterated the traditional face of insurance.

Insurers are now tapping into mobile technology and building digital platforms and portals to add value to customer offerings.

For instance, there are mobile-friendly applications in Malaysia designed to connect customers with health-based offerings.

Rewarding Malaysians for choosing healthier options and supporting them at different points in their health passage are a couple of the digitally-driven initiatives founded on an application platform.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Insurance Trends 2019 report, digital transformation has turned the insurance sector into one of the most globally disrupted industries.

In fact, over 80% of insurance CEOs stated that artificial intelligence (AI) was either already a part of their business model or would be within the next three years.

More and more insurers are working with real-time data from sensors, machine learning and smart devices.

These can capture data that can be used to predict or identify health risks.

For example, this data can be used to predict the likelihood of a client’s diabetes complication risk based on population data, and appropriate care services or solutions can be recommended to lessen the client’s chances of developing any further diabetic complications, after fulfilling their claim.

AI can also reduce human error, predict infectious disease outbreak areas, and read a radiology image to determine if a shadow might be a malignant tumour.

It can even reduce the hassle of filing a claim. For example, an insurance plan to protect women against gestational diabetes mellitus was launched in Singapore in 2018 as the world’s first automated insurance solution.

Women diagnosed with this condition would receive automated payouts, powered with secure blockchain technology.

Keeping you healthy

Health insurance used to be basic and standardised – insurers used to just dole out cash when insured persons died, became disabled or came of age.

Now, not only do insurance companies prioritise health, but they have also reshaped their insurance offerings.

Health insurance plans now come with a host of extras, from the option to personalise plans based on family size, income and lifestyle, to giving clients exclusive portal access to enjoy benefits such as complimentary health assessments, screenings and discounts with health partners.

Wellness programmes tied to healthcare plans and rewards for making healthier choices (such as smoking cessation) are becoming increasingly common.

In certain markets, health insurance plans even include culturally-relevant offerings, such as Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine benefits.

In fact, insurers now closely follow up on consumers long after they have committed to a plan.

Resources are allocated to ensure that you stay well and healthy, instead of just passively insuring you against disease.

Plans are also becoming increasingly specific, with single-disease insurance schemes covering only cancer and diabetes respectively, for example.

And in keeping up with the evolving healthcare landscape, one medical plan offers an add-on option that allows the client access to gene testing for cancer.

Cancer genomics is a relatively new field, which tests for mutations in genes that can guide the doctor in narrowing down and prescribing the best treatment options.

For example, HER2-positive breast cancer – where there is a mutation in the gene that produces the HER2 protein – has a different treatment protocol than non-HER2 breast cancer, with an excellent success rate.

With cancer being one of Malaysia’s biggest health concerns, tools like cancer genomics can help improve a patient’s chances of surviving the illness.

Looking at current trends, health insurance is likely to move more and more into cyberspace, with apps, care pathways and online communities that help and support consumers and their health.

This article is courtesy of AmMetLife.

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