Important takeaways from our session on industry, culture and gender

The IEBA (International Employee Benefits Association) Conference 2024 was held from 11-13 June and was an insightful few days for employee benefits (EB) professionals. As well as the opportunity to network with peers, the conference featured sessions focusing on a range of topics including wellbeing, retirement, recruitment and more.

Of course, we were pleased to share our knowledge with the crowd in Brussels. In our session we discussed how industry, culture and gender impact health claims and what multinationals can do in response.

Dr Leena Johns, Chief Health & Wellness Officer at MAXIS GBN and Maggie Lester, International Benefits Strategy Leader at Merck Group, joined forces to look at this topic in the context of MAXIS claims data and Merck’s wellness programmes.

For those that couldn’t make it to IEBA this year, here are some of the key takeaways from the discussion. Dr Leena shared:

  1. Gender bias seen in data. Why diseases and health conditions like diabetes and cancer are diagnosed many years later in women than in men 
  2. What should multinationals consider in addressing the gender bias in healthcare 
  3.  Why a one-size-fits-all healthcare policy does not necessarily mean gender equity and why introducing a gender dimension is the need of the hour when crafting health policies and wellness solutions
  4. Why multinationals need to depend on data to guide strategies 

Maggie Lester spoke about how Merck stepped away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to achieve equity when forming wellness plans. By doing so, they can really address the differing needs and health concerns of their people, with better outcomes for everyone.

1. Mental health claims – just because they’re missing from claims data, doesn’t mean they’re not there

Mental health claims are still vastly outpaced by physical ones. For whatever reason (incorrect coding, taboos etc), Dr Leena emphasised the point that multinationals shouldn’t be ignoring mental health just because it isn’t a top cost driver.

Maggie spoke about how Merck has tried to ensure its people have mental health support in place. During the pandemic, Merck rolled out a global EAP to ensure all their people could access mental health support.

Earlier this year Merck championed a new programme called BeHealthy and the initial focus was implementing tools for better mental health. It has also been raising awareness at the most senior levels of the impact of poor mental health on productivity and the business.

2. Gender differences in claim costs – different genders need different support

There has been a real push for equality in recent years, as multinationals look to treat their people equally. However that might not be the best approach when it comes to healthcare and medical benefits. MAXIS claims data reveals the different support men and women need.

When segmenting medical claims data by gender, we see some telling examples of the different conditions facing the different genders. While menopause and other more obvious gender-related health challenges stand out and need thinking about, there’s also revealing data around autoimmune conditions like lupus.

Dr Leena urged multinationals to look at their data in granular detail and consider the differing needs of their men and women.

3. Prevention and screening – is this the key to long term health?

Rather than focusing solely on treating illnesses, multinationals should prioritise  prevention and early intervention to ensure that the most costly (from both a health and claims perspective) conditions are prevented by lifestyle changes or are caught early.

Incentivising a healthy lifestyle, routine check-ups, screenings and other preventive care can help improve overall workforce health. Covering evidence-based preventive services and treatments without employees having to pay out of their own pockets could help encourage staff to book the screenings and health checks that could help keep them healthy in the long term.

As well as the three days at the conference, our team hosted a dinner at the Lola restaurant and enjoyed the gala dinner at Château Saint-Anne with delicious food and great company!

It was fantastic to see so many of our clients, brokers and network members again.