UAE insurers offer more cover for employees’ mental health – but cost proves a concern

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Can UAE’s businesses irrespective of size pay for their employees’ mental wellbeing? The high cost of access quality care could become an issue. Image Credit: Pixabay

Dubai: Insurers in the UAE are extending additional cover for mental health issues – including those set off by financial distress – but take up rates so far are largely confined to multinational employers or large organisations.

This despite a post-COVID-19 situation where mental wellbeing – or the lack of it – has become such an issue for workforces everywhere. “We are talking about organisations with more than 1,000 employees and where insurers can offer the additional cover for mental wellbeing at Dh100/Dh200 per person,” said M. Rajendran, regional Managing Director at Al Futtaim Willis Co., the insurance brokerage and consultancy.

“In some cases, insurers are offering these wellness packages as an add-on and absorbing the cost themselves. But this applies only to those group accounts where the organisation is already paying a sizeable premium as part of their normal annual employee medical policy.”

It means a sizeable section of the workforce is still cut off from access to quality support services, and which will need a bit of resolving. It is from the second-half of last year that some insurers expanded their healthcare cover to allow employees at their corporate clients access to mental wellbeing solutions.

“In most cases, this was an add-on over and above their standard medical policies. These are classified as wellbeing solutions covering a range of issues an individual may face.

– M. Rajendran of Al Futtaim Willis Co

“It allows employees to use it for any mental issues they are facing, including those created by their financial situation, stress at the workplace or even involving personal issues. If need be, the employee can access support to their issues without the employer knowing.”

Cost of access

It’s interesting that even with all the awareness about mental health, only the local/regional operations of multinational firms and some of the systemically important large organisations are extending such wellbeing insurance cover for their staff. At a majority of businesses, mental wellbeing is still seen as an individual’s issue to be dealt with privately rather than for the employer to bear the cost.

As businesses focus their efforts to get back to full post-COVID-19 recovery, they will be in no mood – or may not have the financial resources – to extend that much-needed support.

Cost of therapy

But the problem does not end even if an employer offers the workforce insurance cover for any issues related to their mental wellbeing. “A lot of times insurance companies don’t cover the cost of therapy in its entirety,” said Aakanksha Tangri of Re:Set, an online platform focussed on wellbeing solutions. “This means a person has to co-pay – and that can add to the financial burden that comes with seeking mental health support, especially on a regular basis.

“Therapy and prescribed medication needs to be covered in its entirety by insurance companies. Or the workplace should cover the co-pay or offer access to further subsidized therapy by partnering with mental health clinics.”

Rework payment ways

Re:Set recommends that local clinics could help by introducing staggered payment for those individuals whose insurance does not cover or co-pay for sessions over multiple therapy sessions. Group therapy is another way to “help reduce fees and still ensure people have varied options to pick from”.

Regular dialogues around mental health also need to start at companies so employees don’t feel hesitant or ashamed when they need to avail time off or a break during the workday to reset their mental health

– Aakanksha Tangri of Re:Set

Root cause

Insurance industry sources say it is unlikely that co-pay– where the insured has to put up a certain percentage out of his pocket – will remain part of the process. (Co-pay percentages typically are set at 10-20 per cent of each transaction. Having co-pay feature ensures that the insured does not access medical facilities for every perceived malady and thus add to the insurers’ bills.)

As for employers, absorbing more costs related to their group medical policy will be next to impossible. Already this year, during the renewals, many businesses have vastly cut down the scope of their group policies and save on costs.

That leaves employees to make the best out of what’s available. But it will not be easy. For someone whose mental wellbeing is derived out of his or her financial situation, paying a healthcare consultant may well be beyond means.

“It makes one have to think twice before seeking the help they require and can result in a delay in seeking support, with mental health challenges being amplified during that time,” said Tangri. “No one should have to feel guilty or have to figure out where they’re going to get the money from to seek mental health support.

“Accessible mental health resources are the need of the hour, particularly in light of the pandemic and this is why it’s important the financial costs are offset. Companies should also offer credible and affordable resources around mental health.”