Sheldon Kenton: The increasingly complex world of cross-border group PMI

Sheldon Kenton, BupaDubai’s recent decision to require private businesses to provide health insurance to their employees highlights the complexity of delivering cross-border group PMI says Bupa Global managing director Sheldon Kenton

As businesses operate on an increasingly global stage it is more important than ever for employers to think carefully about the international healthcare requirements of their workforce.

Healthcare requirements not only vary according to employee need, but can also vary a huge amount across countries. To add to the complexity, legislation is something that is constantly evolving and changing.

One of the most recent turning points was in Dubai. In June this year, new legislation was introduced that made it a requirement for all private businesses to provide health insurance to their employees – with a strong focus on expats. The new requirements have been rolled out across different sized businesses, with employers now required to present health insurance policies when applying for visa renewals.

While the changes in Dubai are now set, we’re far from the end of change in this region, and it is likely that we will see other markets follow suit.

In the EU, where in the past regulations on health insurance requirements were seldom enforced against expats or temporary travellers, countries are beginning to look at these again and bringing them back to life. In fact, in Europe, policy makers are now turning their eye to the expat community. Meanwhile, in the US, health policy changes under the Obama administration had been bedded down, but given the recent election of Donald Trump it is highly likely we will see further changes there too.

In short, global healthcare legislation is constantly evolving, and as a policy that remains at the heart of political debate, this is not likely to stop any time soon.

So, where does this leave global employers who need policies to cover their international staff in any eventuality? Particularly as employees increasingly expect their employer to play an active role in their health and wellbeing and provide them with care that’s right for them. For most legislative changes, the decisions made are often for the positive, aiming to benefit the majority. Unfortunately, these decisions are almost seldom considered to take the relocated expat employee into account. They are often the afterthought. And for an employer, with employees distributed globally, there are few resources available pointing in the direction of clarity.

In addition, contractual entitlements can quickly overlap with home country and country of residence law, with the result that the path of legal obligation for the expat employee becomes unclear. Consider the American expat businessman, working in Dubai – a web of legislative confusion may limit his understanding of his wife’s medical treatment cover. Does he follow the rules of the Dubai authorities, or ignore in favour of US law? Is his wife still covered by the plan from his employer, or because of the change, must she have her own policy?

These are questions global employers need to be prepared to answer on behalf of their workforce.

For global businesses keen to ensure they stay ahead of legislative change, while also ensuring they provide the best level of care to all of their employees around the world, the best option is to choose an international health insurance provider whose offering goes beyond traditional health insurance into the realm of providing integrated, holistic wellbeing management plans.

This approach ensures all employees have access to basic wellness benefits such as health assessments and employee helplines, as well as ensuring the employer has a macro view of its health and wellness policies. But importantly, this will also ensure employers can match their policy to the footprint of their operations.

As the health insurance industry adapts to match the demands of their globally minded and globally mobile employee base, cover which includes integrated wellness plans is becoming more common. This allows the highest quality cover possible to all employees, regardless of geography.

But it’s not just about staying on the right side of legislation.

As mentioned earlier, more and more employees expect their employer to play a role in their health and wellbeing, and how their employees experience their healthcare and benefits package often impacts their appreciation for their company and employer. As a result, over and above the legislative requirements, it is important for global employers to take a global view of their footprint and policies to ensure they’re offering fair and equal cover across all their operations, regardless of geography.

Employers who take this global approach, and work with the right provider to offer advice and guidance on their global health and wellbeing requirements, will not only be sure they’re staying on the right side of legislation, but also be looking after a happy and engaged workforce.