News Regional22 Nov 2017

PIC 2017:Insurers need to fundamentally rethink health insurance

| 22 Nov 2017

The insurance industry needs to re-examine and change its health philosophy going forward, as what it currently offers is "disease insurance and not health insurance". This was the key message crystallised from two panels at the ongoing 28th Pacific Insurance Conference (PIC) that sought to discuss insuring the 100-year life, and health protection innovation.

The way health is defined and how health care is delivered is changing, but insurers are – unfortunately – fundamentally rewarding doctors for treating diseases, rather than encouraging better health outcomes. As such, the incentive to detect and prevent illnesses early is lacking. It is also hard to bring health insurance to the lower income demographic because it is easier to charge those people at the top of the pyramid – this invariably exacerbates the perennial protection gap. 

Mortality studies have shown that 1 in 3 today will live to 100, a longevity fact that the industry must recognise and that with it comes the increased burden of chronic illnesses. Insurers thus need to re-re-evaluate their KPIs – from disease treatment to improving wellness – and look to partnering their customers early on in the protection journey. They also must shift from a view of treatment to predictive and preventive care – given what tech advances can bring in detection and diagnostics.

And instead of underwriting a customer only once in their lifetime, insurance companies need to change their assumptions and explore how they can be dynamic in their underwriting to support their policyholders over their lifespan, panellists said.


The discussion on partnership also extended to the collaboration between the insurers and health care providers. The experts agreed that there needs to be a more concerted effort to solve the information asymmetry and fragmentation between insurers, health care practitioners and patients. Aside from feedback from policyholders, panellists noted that insurers should also listen to input from medical professionals in order to better develop solutions.

Meanwhile, the increasing pace of technological advancement and adoption, along with evolving population demographics will also fundamentally impact health care models and funding. Both insurance and health care industries will need to redesign their product and service offerings to cater to new trends. For example, digital will enable common health care to be delivered at home, while hospitals and specialist centres will cater mostly to complex and emergency cases.

The discourse also touched on the possible use of science, such as genomic testing, in underwriting. But aside from hereditary conditions, panellists noted that most other diseases were all in early stages of research, and thus cautioned against using “scientific fortune telling”. Prediction of diseases, they said, should be backed by robust statistics and clear interpretations, as well as considered from ethical and clients’ emotional perspectives.

Led by Swiss Re’s Regional President for Asia, Ms Jayne Plunkett, the dialogue on “Insuring the 100-year Life” featured Mr Jason Sadler, President of Cigna International Markets, Cigna Corporation; Ms Penny Wan, VP & General Manager, Japan and Asia Pacific, Amgen; and Ms Ka Man Wong, AXA’s Regional Life Chief Actuary & Inforce Solutions.

The panel on “Innovating Future Health Protection Today” meanwhile, comprised Dr York Yat-Ngok Chow, Chief Medical Officer & Corporate Advisor for AIA Kong Kong and Macau; Dr Antony Vriens, Manulife’s Head of Technical Services; Deloitte Consulting Partner Joanna Wong; and was moderated by Swiss Re Head of Life & Health Robert Burr.

The PIC ends today in Hong Kong. It drew over 320 attendees from 22 countries. 

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