Analysis: Multinational healthcare strategies

Creating a cohesive approach across different territories

Multinational companies might operate in different countries around the globe, but many want to have one central healthcare and wellbeing strategy. Nic Paton looks at how employee benefit consultants can help them to achieve just that.

We all know that, in this age of 24/7 connectivity, the world is getting ever smaller. Nevertheless, for multinationals with complex global, regional and local networks, creating a consistent identity that works meaningfully at different levels will always be challenging. World markets, for all their creeping corporate homogenisation, remain diverse and stubbornly differentiated, something that, in reality, we ought probably to be thankful for, as doing business would be rather dull otherwise.

One area where this differentiation is felt most keenly is in health and wellbeing. Many multinationals, on the one hand, want to be seen to be "doing the right thing" as an employer of choice, as well as of course looking to gain significant benefits around productivity, engagement and, ideally, lower healthcare and insurance costs.

Yet, on the other hand, the diversity of healthcare systems around the globe, the variety of licensing regimes and different healthcare priorities from country to country, let alone region to region, can make it very hard, if not impossible, to create an appropriately lean one-size-fits-all global healthcare structure.

As Mark Coleman, international sales director at international private medical insurance (iPMI) provider Cigna International Expatriate Benefits, puts it: "The question we get asked a lot is: we have 150,000 employees around the world, can we put them into one healthcare programme? The quick answer is no. But there are solutions they can adopt."

A multinational challenge

The challenge for multinationals therefore is how to square the circle between having a healthcare offering that is responsive enough to meet myriad local and regional needs and priorities yet does not as a result end up so vastly complicated that the return-on-investment is, at best, negligible.

While, clearly, there are going to be economies of scale from having a global or regional structure, the best that corporates may be able to achieve in reality is a global aspiration or set of global principles, as once they start to scratch the implementation surface immediately the picture becomes more complex.

For example, there are a multitude of different regulatory and oversight systems around the world, with different countries requiring different licences to operate, points out Alison Massey, marketing, sales and e-commerce director at Now Health International, the iPMI provider.

There will, too, inevitably be important legal and cultural nuances to be taken on board. For example, a policy within which the term "spouse" covers an unmarried or same-sex partner will run into difficulty in a country such as the United Arab Emirates, she argues.

"So you need to be making sure the policy wording is appropriate for that territory," she explains.

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