With employer-provided health benefits costs expected to increase globally in 2020, mental and behavioural conditions are predicted to become more common over the next five years, according to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson.

The annual survey of global medical insurers found health-care costs are expected to rise at a similar rate as previous years, with a projected increase to 6.8 per cent in 2020 compared to 6.7 per cent in 2019. The most dramatic rise is in the Middle East and Africa, where costs are expected to jump to 9.3 per cent from 8.5 per cent. In Europe, the rate of increase is expected to remain stable at 4.3 per cent and, in Latin America, medical costs are projected to decrease from 12.2 per cent to 11.7 per cent.

Read: Health-care cost inflation to trend downward in Canada in 2019: report

While cancer, cardiovascular diseases and musculoskeletal conditions remained the top three conditions by cost at 83 per cent, 55 per cent and 46 per cent, respectively, they’re projected to remain so over the next five years. However, 27 per cent of health insurers predicted mental and behavioural conditions will be among the top three, and 26 per cent said they expect they’ll be among the three most expensive.

Globally, among group benefits plans covering less than 50 employees, 50 per cent exclude people with pre-existing conditions. This falls to 32 per cent when the group policy covers up to 500 employees. However, for alcohol and drug use and HIV/AIDS, there’s much more unanimity. Among group policies of different sizes, between 49 per cent and 53 per cent exclude on the basis of alcoholism and drug use, and between 47 per cent and 50 per cent exclude on the basis of HIV/AIDS.

Read: Alberta LTD ruling offers lessons about exclusions for pre-existing conditions

In terms of cost management methods, contracted networks of providers for all treatments is still the top cited across all regions, at 74 per cent, followed by the limiting or capping of certain services. In the Middle East and Africa, 83 per cent of respondents identified the latter as the most effective method.

Some 61 per cent of survey respondents in Latin America saw mental-health costs as being responsible for a moderate increase in health-care costs, with a further five per cent seeing them as responsible for a significant increase. This trend was seen broadly across all regions, with 60 per cent in Europe and 47 per cent in Asia Pacific seeing it as responsible for a moderate increase. The Middle East and Africa is an exception, with just 24 per cent seeing it as responsible for a moderate increase.

Finally, more than 40 per cent of global insurers said they think medical expenses will increase. In terms of regions, Asia Pacific is the most optimistic, with 32 per cent agreeing there will be a moderate increase and 12 per cent saying costs will be lower.

Read: Global health-care benefits costs are on the rise: survey

Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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