By Risha Isaac, Associate Consultant, Health Benefits, Mercer
In light of the coronavirus pandemic, it has become even more critical for organizations to properly manage the impact of a disaster, whether it is a cyberattack, earthquake or a medical pandemic by protecting their employees. This will equip workers with the right knowledge and tools required to navigate difficult tides; particularly those faced with any challenges related to health and wellness.
As the deadly virus also continues to spread across Africa; invading a total of 52 countries on the continent, governments have taken strategic decisions to mitigate the economic effects of the virus. Some of which include lockdowns, in addition to social distancing and other measures.
But, even though these factors put a strain on employee communications and interactions, there are avenues worth exploring to boost employee confidence amidst the global crisis.
Africa poses a larger threat when compared globally due to the vulnerable healthcare systems, insufficient healthcare employees, lack of technology and other medical challenges, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, Ebola and malaria. For this reason, we encourage employers to put employee wellbeing and safety at the top of the agenda, as a strategic imperative, as well their mental wellbeing, in the current and future outlook.
According Mercer’s Oil and Energy study, companies in the Middle East and Africa are planning or have already implemented certain changes to support their employees during this pandemic. For instance, 43.8% of companies are focused on providing the same level of benefits at a lower cost, while 56.3% have opted to make no changes to their health and wellness benefits. Considering the challenging times most companies are facing, it’s worth noting that the employee wellbeing and safety remains a top priority for companies in the Oil and Energy industry. As such, 56% of companies are planning or have already implemented an Employee Assistance Programme. A further 31% of companies are planning or have already implemented additional health solutions to help employees better address specific health issues, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, mental wellbeing and so forth.
How can your Health Insurance provide support?
Despite the belief that once lockdowns are over the virus would disappear, the reality is COVID-19 will only disappear once there is a cure. Until then, our future will never be the same.
The use of the internet, email, social networking sites and mobile phones is rapidly expanding across Africa with about 80% of people in the region estimated to be using mobile phones. Going forward there are a few solutions like virtual medical consulting that could aid employees during these times. Telemedicine is another useful resource that can eliminate distance and time barriers while encouraging positive lifestyle changes to prevent and control common diseases.
Additionally, most insurers will cover treatment for COVID-19 from the existing health insurance benefits, however the preference is to use the government as the first point of contact for testing and treatment. All of this information from insurers is communicated regularly, therefore employees would already be made aware of how they would be covered for COVID-19, if they are part of a private medical insurance (PMI).
International insurers BUPA and Cigna have made available the option to consult with a healthcare provider over your phone or computer for basic medical conditions at no extra cost to the members during this pandemic. Local insurers Discovery Health, UAP and Jubilee have also come onboard with providing this service for COVID-19 related concerns at no extra costs to members. However, it is important to note that insurers do not cover repatriations and evacuations due to COVID-19 and companies opting to move employees will be at their own expense.
Based on Mercer’s report, 56% of companies based in Middle East and Africa are planning or have already initiatives to educate employees on social and community programs and 38% want to promote financial wellness to adequately prepare ahead of time.
People who are most at risk of developing any complications due to COVID-19 include those who have non-communicable diseases like cancer, hypertension, lung disease, diabetes and heart disease. It is for this reason that international insurers and some local insurers often encourage members to use the wellness benefits embedded into their annual health insurance.
Epidemics are historically associated with a rise in depression and anxiety. In order to see such situations well managed,Mercer’s COVID-19 report points out that employers have a role in communicating information and providing mental health support for their employees.
Most health insurance benefits have cover for mental health and employee assistance programs. Now more than ever, when people begin to feel uncertain, they become aware of the benefits at hand. Thus, employers can obtain support from their EAPs on communicating mental health recommendations (meditation, exercise, financial wellness, etc) to motivate employees.
In order to manage the various challenges employees may be grappling with during this time, the above recommendations should serve as a guide to ensure that workers have access to benefits ranging from virtual medical consulting to the overall management of their health.