Prevention and cure
Aetna International delivers comprehensive global health insurance and health management solutions for mobile employees worldwide.
Writer Chris Farnell
Project manager Sheridan Halls
With an ageing global population facing constantly changing circumstances, the healthcare industry is sitting on a demographic ticking time bomb, and is going to have to significantly change the way it does things if it's going to adapt to this new world. Nobody knows this better than Derek Goldberg, Managing Director: Southeast Asia, at Fortune 100 health insurance firm Aetna.
"All healthcare companies are facing some daunting demographics and trends," says he. "Obesity has more than doubled between 1980 and 2013 while changes in diet and lifestyle are contributing to a rise in chronic diseases. We also have elderly populations rising around the world and one alarming statistic I've heard is that the global percentage of elderly people is expected to triple by 2050. The Southeast Asia region is no exception: Singapore, for instance, has one of the three or four most rapidly ageing populations in the world. Even more concerning is that these trends are projected to continue for the foreseeable future. This drives healthcare costs up, making it less affordable for people to obtain quality care. We aim to contain costs by better managing the health of patients who have chronic conditions while also focusing on prevention and wellness." It's a mission that that Aetna takes incredibly seriously. The company's approach to the issue is a forward-looking and multi-pronged attack. "Our mission is to make quality healthcare affordable and accessible," Golderg explains.
"We're best known for health insurance and that is a key part of what we do. Our international insurance business is primarily focused on meeting the healthcare needs of customers with cross border requirements, including expatriates on overseas assignments, and local nationals who travel a great deal or require access to private hospital systems that would not be covered under a typical local health insurance policy. Our insurance plans are designed for the unique needs of these 'globally mobile' people, with features like worldwide networks of healthcare providers, 24-hour customer service, and electronic claims filing. In addition to our insurance programmes, we also off er prevention and wellness services to individuals, employers, and governments, which empower people to lead healthier lives. The wellness features are offered both as part of our insurance products and on a standalone basis."
To take on such a global problem requires work on an absolutely massive scale, but Aetna has the size to deal with these issues, Goldberg tells us. "One of our advantages is our size and stability. We bring global resources to our mission, with 50,000 employees looking after our 44 million members worldwide; 800 of those employees are focused exclusively on the international needs of our 500,000 cross border customers. We have more than a million healthcare providers in our worldwide network. That scale and experience translates into a nuanced understanding of the healthcare needs of our customers."
Aetna's sole focus on health and wellness brings invaluable knowledge to the table.
"Our reputation is built on unparalleled expertise. Many insurers do health insurance as a sideline, but for us it's in our DNA, it's everything we do," Goldberg says proudly. "As a result we are the experts in healthcare and this presents many benefits to our customers. We know how to price and manage risks to keep rates stable over time. We can combine our insurance with other health and wellness related features. We can analyse vast amounts of data from our customers' claims alongside data gathered from health check-ups or online health risk assessments to identify risks. We can then target at risk members with prevention programmes to reduce the prevalence of disease and help our members with existing conditions better manage their illnesses."
But medical expertise isn't enough either. Working across international borders means working within a wide variety of different legal systems and regulations, and with the health of large populations being a particularly salient issue right now, things are changing fast. Fortunately, Aetna is able to keep up.
"We devote significant resource to making sure our plans are compliant with local regulation and requirements wherever we operate in the world. As a U.S.-based company we can also offer insurance plans compliant with the healthcare reform act popularly known as Obamacare," Goldberg says.
The company's approach is one that has proven hugely successful. It has seen very strong growth over the last year, both in Southeast Asia and globally, and new opportunities are opening up all the time.
"There are a number of rapidly growing economies in the Southeast Asia region, like Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, which are expected to continuing growing for quite some time," Goldberg explains. "The middle class is expanding in these countries, creating an increased demand for quality healthcare. At the same time, multinationals from outside the region are being drawn in by the growing markets, sending expatriates in to work here, which falls directly within our area of expertise. So these trends are a positive opportunity for us."
Aetna is more than a business. It's made up of people, and for the company as a whole to achieve the things that it does it needs to be made up of the very best people. They need professionals who not only have strong technical and medical knowledge but also insights into the cultures and markets in which the company does business.
"We believe in hiring locally as we need staff who understand the markets that we're in, but we also look for people who can grow with the company," Goldberg says. "We take our time to find the right candidates. It can be tempting to get someone in quickly when we're growing fast, but it's important to us to find the right person for the role rather than simply filling a gap as soon as possible. Once people are on board we invest heavily in their training through internal and web based training as well as using expert training resources from outside."
Once they've located the right people, they like to hold onto them.
"The time we put into recruitment pays off because we get people who want to make a career here and stay with us," Goldberg says. "We have a stable and experienced team. While we have quite a few new team members because we've grown so much, there are still a large number of people who were here from the early days of our setting up in this region."
But this is only the beginning.
Aetna still has big plans for the future. "Geographic expansion is a big part of our growth strategy. Our philosophy is to bring our healthcare offerings to more potential customers in more markets while adding more features and options to our products. We also expect growth from our international population health solutions business, which works with governments to build effective healthcare systems. One example from our Middle East region is the government of Qatar. We're helping to build a new national health insurance system that will provide access to healthcare for its entire population of citizens and foreign residents."
Aetna is eager to take on the challenge of broadening its reach. And it's a good thing too, because the issues Aetna is grappling with are becoming more pressing than ever, and the entire industry is going to have to change the way it thinks.
Goldberg concludes, "Healthcare around the world is changing, from a system that's focused on treating disease to a system that's focused on keeping people healthy. Aetna is at the forefront of that change, with our technological innovations, population health solutions, corporate health and wellness programmes and care and disease management programmes. We are a company that can connect people, employers, healthcare providers and healthcare systems in ways that translate into quality care, better outcomes, and contained costs."