The top-reported conditions giving rise to adverse claim experience around the world are cancer, cardiovascular ailments such as high blood pressure, diabetes and respiratory conditions. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Costs for employer sponsored-medical plans in 2018 are likely to rise 8.4 percent – nearly triple the projected rate of inflation, as global risk factors such as high blood pressure, physical inactivity and obesity increase, according to Aon’s report, “2018 Global Medical Trend Rates.”

For 2018, the gap between the average medical trend rate and the average general inflation rate is expected to modestly decrease to 5.3 percentage points from the corresponding 5.4 figure in 2017. The average nominal medical trend rate is expected to increase 0.2 percentage points: For 2018, the global average medical trend rate was 8.4 percent and the average general inflation rate was 3.1 percent. In 2017, the global average medical trend rate was 8.2 percent and the average general inflation rate was 2.8 percent.

“Aon expects further medical cost escalation due to global population aging, overall declining health, poor lifestyle habits becoming pervasive in emerging countries, continuing cost shifting from social programs, and increasing utilization of employer-sponsored plans,” the authors write.

The top-reported conditions giving rise to adverse claim experience around the world are cancer, cardiovascular ailments such as high blood pressure, diabetes  and respiratory conditions, according to the report. The key reported global risk factors that are expected to drive future claims are high blood pressure, physical inactivity and obesity.

“Noncommunicable diseases are the biggest contributors to the adverse experience driving high medical inflation,” the authors write. These types of diseases “are directly linked to modern lifestyles, and their incidence can be significantly reduced through modification of individual behaviors. Influencing these behaviors presents both a challenge and an opportunity for employers.”

The most impactful elements of medical plan costs around the world are hospitalization, clinics/labs and physician services. The methods most commonly reported for mitigating the increase in the costs of a medical plan are wellness initiatives, cost containment and access and delivery restrictions.

There are geographic variations in costs and strategies to mitigate medical plan costs, according to the report. For example, European employers are likely to see the lowest increase in costs next year, while Latin American and Middle Eastern and African employers are focused on preventative strategies like vaccination programs to control costs.

Across the globe, the practice of requiring employee cost-sharing in medical plan costs is growing, either by employees sharing in medical premium costs, or in medical claim outlays.

“The findings addressed in this report suggest that employers need to accelerate their efforts in helping employees to both understand their own health risks and begin to take steps to improve their health,” the authors write. “Rising costs and the increased prevalence of chronic conditions are global phenomena—and regardless of the underlying medical insurance system, employers will experience added organizational cost and lost workforce productivity if these trends continue.”