The cost of private health cover jumped by an average 3.6% last year as more people turned to the service and the cost of complex medical treatment increased.
The research looked at medical cover for expats across 500 organisations in 16 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
The study revealed that cost drivers were different between countries – with Britain citing large claims, while Spain, Portugal and the United Arab Emirates had more concerns about increasing numbers of expats accessing private health care.
One factor that impacted on the cost was a new law in France that compels employers to offer private health cover.
Expat employers paid for private medicine as an average of 3.9% of payroll in 2011.
Health care benefits
The highest average cost is in the UAE (5.9%), Turkey (4.5%) and Spain (4.2%).
Outside the region, US employers pay an astonishing 13% of payroll towards private medical care.
Few organisations would cancel health cover because of costs (12%), but 17% would trim the benefits package and 16% would look to employees to contribute more.
To try to control costs, 40% of employers have an employee wellness program.
One of the main worries of employers is tinkering with the scope of a health care package by reducing benefits is that good employees could be discouraged from joining their organisation.
David Levey, of Mercer, the expat benefits consultancy, said: “Organisations are caught between two stools. They need to keep medical benefit costs low, but care costs are rising and many are worried that if their package is uncompetitive, employees will opt to go elsewhere.
“One of the problems is monitoring costs and features provided by cover across different locations. Organisations cannot buy a one-size-suits-all package but have to tailor their package to each expat in each location.
Workers age before their time
Mercer reckons 40% of employers do not routinely keep information to help them manage their healthcare benefits packages, but rely on providers to do the job for them.
In a separate survey, Mercer discloses that a poor lifestyle can shorten a British worker’s life by four years.
Tests showed 86% of British workers had a body age of 4.1 years older than their birth age, while a third have risk factors endangering their health.
The study blames obesity and smoking as two of the main health issues faced by workers.
Men in their 40s are the main casualties of a poor lifestyle, says the report, as they are 12% more likely to have to go to a doctor and 13% more likely to be hospitalised due to poor health induced by lifestyle.