MAXIS Global Benefits Network has revealed significant global discrepancies between different countries in how COVID-19 has affected medical claims.
An analysis of MAXIS’ proprietary paid claims data has shown that in many countries, COVID-19 has had a material impact on respiratory system diseases. Data from Mexico show 9 percent of all paid claims in 2020 were COVID-19 related, the highest of any country in the MAXIS data.
Respiratory diseases accounted for 15 percent of total claims paid in Mexico in 2020 compared to only 6 percent in 2019 – a 135 percent year-on-year jump. COVID-19 was cited as a factor in 64 percent of all respiratory claims in the country, while non-COVID claims accounted for the other 36 percent.
However, MAXIS data reveal significant variations between countries. While Mexico and Pakistan (60.6 percent) saw more respiratory claims being linked to COVID-19, Singapore and Kuwait saw only 0.01 percent and 1.1 percent, respectively, of claims having the same link.
MAXIS said this could reflect health equity differences between ethnic groups and how deadly the virus has been in each country, the capacity of the public health systems to cope with the pandemic, or the speed of implementing lockdown measures and vaccination programmes.
It said: “By looking at COVID-19 claims data, you can understand your employee needs in each market and plan wellness interventions to give your employees access to the care they require. That can mean adding telemedicine services so that employees can continue to have medical access despite lockdowns or implementing employee assistance programmes and other services to help support employees’ mental health.”
MAXIS also noted COVID has been particularly deadly for people who suffer from chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity, hypertension and asthma. “It’s hardly surprising that we have seen a link between chronic disease and COVID-19 in our claims data,” it said.
Data from Mexico show that all the chronic diseases that have played a significant contributory role in increasing the severity of COVID-19 combined totals 32 percent of total claims costs. These include circulatory system diseases, malignant cancers, kidney diseases, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver diseases and asthma.
MAXIS noted that lockdowns and a lack of access to usual treatments could have led to worsening of chronic illnesses in some cases.
As a percentage of total paid claims, musculoskeletal claims have also increased year-on-year in many markets, MAXIS said. “No doubt poor ergonomic working environments, limited mobility and less exercise – all due to vast numbers of people suddenly working at home with limited access to gyms – have all been contributory factors in this increase,” it explained.
MAXIS advised employers to consider targeted wellness programmes aimed at reducing some of their biggest chronic disease cost drivers. “These can be delivered via educational campaigns or online programmes and can help employees better manage their chronic diseases or musculoskeletal conditions, keeping people healthier and at lower risk of costly treatments,” it said.
MAXIS data show an 87 percent reduction in paid claims for cancer in Cyprus, a 69 percent reduction in Ecuador and a 37 percent fall in Panama. It warned that a decline in cancer claims could be evidence that less cases are being identified early. “Employers could consider promoting the benefits of cancer screenings to employees to help with early diagnosis or catching anything that has been missed as soon as possible,” it advised.
MAXIS said the majority of COVID-19 cases have so far been dealt with through inpatient channels, with patients needing hospitalisation to deal with the effects of the virus, particularly in Mexico, Panama, Egypt, Ecuador and the UAE.
Inpatient hospitalisation costs are far higher than outpatient care, it noted, which could influence changes in costs and benefits going forward. “It may be that outpatient channels are used more as the world learns to accommodate and treat the virus in different ways,” MAXIS predicted.
MAXIS also warned of the impact COVID has had on mental health. As a percentage of total paid claims, mental health costs increased year-on-year in many markets, it said: in Chile, mental health claims in 2020 increased by 22 percent from the year before; in the UK, such claims increased by 49 percent.
“While we can’t be certain, it’s very likely that effects of the COVID-19 pandemic: social isolation, job loss, the death of loved ones and the constant barrage of negative news, may have contributed to an increase in mental health conditions,” it said.
MAXIS’ findings are based on a study of its paid claims data from around the world in 2020 and the early part of 2021. The early findings are based on paid claims from 17 of MAXIS’ network members globally, including in a number of emerging economies, in Asia, the Middle East and Central and South America.
MAXIS warned its data do not incorporate the significant amount of publicly available COVID-19 data released by governments and similar bodies, and only covers private medical claims. It therefore doesn’t give a full representation of COVID-19 in these countries, it said.
By Mid July there had been over 184 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3.9 million deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). However, with 3 billion vaccine doses having been administered, there seems to be a little light at the end of the long COVID-19 tunnel, it said.
MAXIS Global Benefits Network