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COVID-19 Consumer Survey: How insurers can answer calls for a more holistic view of health

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to significantly heightened awareness of the importance of health and wellness. In our latest Asia Pacific COVID-19 consumer survey, respondents from 12 markets across Asia ranked mental wellbeing one of their top health concerns.

Speaking as someone with a clinical psychology background, I find this both troubling and encouraging. The data points to a growing willingness to engage with mental health challenges, which have long been a stigma in most parts of Asia, and embrace a more holistic conception of health and wellness.

Depression and anxiety are the two most common mental health conditions in the world and cost the global economy US$1 trillion per year. They also rank among the top five mental health conditions in this region. Yet, it can still be difficult for people to talk about their struggles with these or other mental health issues.

Our research shows an increased emphasis on mental wellbeing prompting consumers to embrace a ‘mind-body’ approach to their own health. Survey participants say they are now observing stricter personal hygiene, eating better, exercising more often and adopting better sleep habits as a result of the pandemic.

But lifestyle changes alone are not enough to maintain a good balance between mental and emotional wellbeing. Feeling secure is also a major contributor to mental wellness, and consumers clearly want greater financial protection to serve as a safety net when circumstances take an unexpected turn. Almost 50% of those surveyed say medical insurance is the first thing they will look for when seeking additional coverage.

As always, we hope these research insights serve as the basis for action, in the form of new insurance solutions. Consumers’ shifting priorities have opened up opportunities for insurers to devise innovative products and services that can help prevent or reduce mental and lifestyle-related health risks, allow for early detection, and increase access to professional intervention.

Evolving products and services for a better fit

Rethinking the traditional underwriting model, which only considers the applicant’s health status at the point of entry, is a good starting point. Swiss Re began analysing and tracking the 'Big Six' lifestyle risk factors even before the pandemic. These factors, which capture some of the high-priority consumer concerns that surfaced from the survey, can supplement traditional risk assessment methods to help insurers evaluate risk more accurately, and adopt a multifaceted view of health that considers the interaction of physical, mental and lifestyle elements.

Understanding the key habits that affect overall wellbeing gives insurers more tools to innovate with. It enhances our ability to develop a dynamic approach to underwriting, which will allow premiums to be reassessed and adjusted as customers’ lifestyles and health risks change. At the same time, more robust health data can also be used to develop a wider variety of insurance products and services at different price points to meet the needs of a more diverse population.

We also need to answer calls for more digitally delivered services, as our regional CEO Russell Higginbotham has noted. At Swiss Re, we do  this by leveraging data and predictive analytics to develop automated underwriting solutions, such as Magnum. These services streamline insurance application and claims processes to deliver a more convenient and personalised consumer experience, making it easier for people to obtain the protection that enables them to feel secure.

Mitigating risks and increasing access to professional intervention

The demand for digital delivery of tailored services has been on an upward trend, with on average 35% of respondents - predominantly in emerging Asia, younger people (aged 18-39) and higher earners - open to sharing personal data in exchange for customised health advice. However, data privacy remains a concern for the majority. Almost half (47%) of survey respondents say they hesitate to use personalised services because of misgivings over the use of their data. Putting in place robust safeguards for data privacy will boost consumers’ confidence and trust in the industry and help us reach a much larger pool of individuals who would benefit from these services.

As more people become comfortable with sharing their private information, insurers will have more opportunities to engage them through wellness apps, which many more consumers are exploring to help manage their wellbeing. Insurers can use these tools as a platform to offer advice and incentives that encourage individuals to take action to improve their physical and mental health.

There’s a lot more our industry can do to promote healthier living, including fostering dialogue on mental health issues and enhancing access to professional help through insurance coverage. When working as a clinical psychologist, I saw how early, timely diagnosis and intervention benefited many individuals and their loved ones when they proactively sought professional help to improve their mental and emotional health.

We owe it to ourselves and to our customers to participate in the growing movement to tackle mental health issues globally. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognises the adverse impacts of poor mental health and has implemented the WHO Special Initiative for Mental Health with the goal to ensure treatment coverage for 100 million people in 12 priority countries by 2023.

Currently an under-developed segment, our survey shows insurance for mental health conditions has significant room for growth due to rising receptiveness towards this kind of coverage, especially among younger generations across Asia Pacific.

The enforced isolation, financial uncertainty and health challenges brought by the pandemic have exerted a heavy mental health toll. Yet if there’s a silver lining that will emerge from this crisis, it’s that greater awareness of, acceptance of and access to services that support psychological wellbeing will go a long way towards plugging the gap in individuals’ and society’s quest for a healthy life.

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