Aetna: healthy in body and mind – Sandip Patel
Healthcare benefits have become an important tool alongside financial reimbursement in many countries for bringing high-quality employees to a company and retaining their services. Employees' expectations of health benefits have consequently risen, but too often CEOs look at these benefits solely in terms of providing financial support for health-related costs.
Insurance, however, is just one part of the overall health benefits package that CEOs should consider, explains Sandip Patel, senior vice-president, international businesses for Aetna.
"People should concentrate more on the health element of benefits," he says. "We are focused on empowering people to live healthier lives. It is not only about commitment to employees, but also the economic benefits that can arise from the right healthcare benefits programme."
Aetna is a global organisation that helps companies to manage their health benefits programmes by providing easy access to cost-effective, high-quality healthcare, alongside prevention, wellness and disease-management programmes, data analysis to pinpoint problems, and technology tools to help employees maintain good health.
"Having employees who are in poor health or who have no awareness of a healthy lifestyle can lead to high levels of absenteeism and staff turnover, whereas a healthy workforce is a more productive workforce," explains Patel.
This is one reason why Aetna works with companies, not only to find cost-effective insurance packages with provider discounts, but also to run programmes that help employees maintain their health and prevent illness. The broader view of health benefits that Patel advocates helps companies address the three types of major challenges that he sees as vital to today's multinational businesses.
"The first challenge is how to get the optimal benefit from healthcare spending on employees," he says. "This means getting more than discounts. It is about focusing on health outcomes and greater awareness of health issues.
"Secondly, we are seeing rising rates of chronic diseases, not just in the developed world, but also in emerging economies where rapid urbanisation, sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy lifestyle behaviour are contributing to the growth of chronic conditions around the world. We have to look at how to prevent and manage these health conditions.
"Finally, we need to examine how to enable a healthier and, therefore, more productive workforce. Many CEOs think only about insurance-related finance aspects, but they should look at how to incentivise disease prevention and healthy lifestyle choices. Leaders need to think about how to build healthy living into their corporate cultures."
As more companies expand into new geographies, the challenges of creating a suitable health benefits programme come into sharper focus.
Policies must be adapted to suit local markets, which is why Aetna places great emphasis on understanding regional differences and helping CEOs find the right package.
"More clients are building large employee bases in China, for example, and are concerned about the health risk," says Patel. "We help them develop a health risk profile of the employee population to customise wellness and prevention programmes as part of their benefits package.
"It is part of the staff-retention programme, and about increasing productivity by providing easy access to doctors and wellness programmes. Employees like it and it helps to improve their wellness quotient. Health is a very local issue, so you have to define benefits programmes to suit regional markets. You must start by understanding the health risks of a market and that will define the components of your programme."
Aetna's global coverage and holistic view of health benefits give it a unique perspective on regional markets. Having started out in the US, where the company has pioneered initiatives in health information services and healthcare technology, it has developed an in-depth knowledge of markets in Europe and developing countries. Its approach not only leverages technology, but also a keen understanding of insurance and disease-prevention programmes.
"Getting insurance provider discounts is just table stakes," says Patel. "Companies need a partner who can really improve the health quotient of the workforce."