*This article was published in partnership with Metlife.
With growing evidence showing early intervention is key to preventing long-term secondary conditions after an adverse health incident, insurers are increasingly looking to virtual health offerings to provide immediate assistance to members before, during and after a claim.
MetLife has taken this one step further by linking health planning with financial planning, recognising the strong connection between financial wellbeing and physical and mental health.
Its 360Health service, provided to retail members and its adviser network, began just over two years ago with the intention of driving prevention and early detection of the four major illnesses known to contribute most to disability: mental health, cancer, cardiac health and diabetes.
But it also provides guidance on returning to health as quickly as possible post-claim, and notably, it provides financial support that goes beyond making claims payments to supporting their customers with things like job seeking, career guidance and grief counselling.
Mark Raberger, head of health at MetLife Australia, says rising longevity has driven average lifespans well into the 80s, and insurers have a role to play in helping members spend the bulk of that time with healthy minds and bodies.
“We know that on average, ten years of a person’s life is spent unhealthy,” Raberger says. “Serious illness makes them not as able-bodied and minded as they could be, and often due to one of those four major illnesses.”
Financial health paramount
Research conducted by MetLife at the end of 2019 asked participants to rank aspects of their health according to what was most at risk or their highest priority. Out of social health, physical health, mental health and financial health, the largest number of participants chose financial health, with mental health a close second.
The research also found a high correlation between financial health and mental health, which won’t come as a surprise to many having battled through Covid-19. John Brogden AM, chair of counselling and support service Lifeline, last year credited the federal government’s JobKeeper Payment as literally saving lives by preventing suicides.
Says Raberger: “For someone under financial distress, it is not uncommon to lead to some sort of mental health impact; either heightened stress, or it could lead to anxiety, and ultimately mental illness. That initial research confirmed that customers need to understand their financial health and this may be a large determinant of their physical and mental health.”
But how should an insurer – not a health organisation – get that information to its members? Further research showed six out of ten people saw value in linking health and financial planning together. And just over four in ten were happy to get health information – like access to resources or tools to facilitate better mental health and physical health – from their financial adviser.
“People spend a lot of time choosing their financial planner, because they are entrusting their finances with an individual to help them achieve their financial goals,” says Raberger. “So, we believe there is a lot of trust between the individual and their adviser, and that trust means they will be comfortable to listen to that person for broader advice, for instance around health planning.”
Linking health to financial
360Health provides health literacy from the nation’s most respected sources. Content about mental health, for example, comes from iconic organisations like Beyond Blue, the Black Dog Institute and SANE. The Cancer Council and Diabetes Australia also have respected content on their respective areas of expertise. 360Health is about curating the best content and making it easier to access for customers.
At the end of March this year MetLife teamed up with Teledoc, a New York Stock Exchange listed leader in virtual care, involved with every area of this field including mental health, physical health and allied health to deliver advisers and their clients 360Health Virtual Care at no extra cost.
Aided by the Teledoc partnership 360Health Virtual Care provides its Mental Health Assist program which connects the member with a psychiatrist and a psychologist and gives a comprehensive report with diagnostic and suggested management plans.
Currently the most highly used service on 360Health, Mental Health Assist gives access to these specialist mental health services featuring reduced waiting times and access from the comfort of home as well as enabling appropriate management and support through existing services that the customer may not be aware of.
Other services include Expert Medical Opinion, which provides a second opinion service after a diagnosis, along with GP Online for an online consultation with a doctor, and Nutrition Consult which helps members make positive changes to their diet.
Not to take away from the seriousness of cancer and heart conditions, support on silent killers like diabetes and mental health are particularly important, Raberger says. A cancer diagnosis or heart attack draws an outpouring of support from friends and family, but there is a lower level of awareness about diabetes and mental health – although this is changing.
“Diabetes tends to creep up on people and it is often too late before the warning signs are present,” Raberger says. “And mental health can also be silent. People don’t know what to say, people with it don’t like talking about it with friends and colleagues, and while this is slowly changing, there is still a level of stigma.”
But like mental illness and diabetes, Raberger says financial duress can also be a silent condition that people tend to be reluctant to talk about, and it can be causing stress to a person without others realising it. For example, during the onset of Covid-19, those with jobs may have seemed like they were doing ok, but reduced hours or salary, or under-employment from their partners or family members, may have had profound impacts.
Covid-19 has propelled virtual health into the mainstream after a stark and troubling reduction in face-to-face medical visits in early 2020.
Jamie Vickers, Director, Australia and New Zealand at Teladoc, says Australia was a very immature market for virtual care before the pandemic, but this changed overnight.
“Australians were forced into using virtual care and realised it works very effectively,” Vickers said.
“So, we’ve got a population now that understands virtual care, we’ve come forward probably five years in tele-health adoption in a short space of time.”
In Australia, where Teladoc has operated for 12 years, the company is bringing virtual care solutions to insurers with a focus on second opinions for physical conditions and digital solutions addressing mental health. The company’s second opinion service stemmed from a belief that anyone, no matter where they were in the world, should have access to the best healthcare and leading specialists.
Insurers and financial advisers now know these services are available, effective and a great way to build their value proposition to clients as part of a broader, more wholistic protection solution, says Vickers.
“Life insurers are there to protect and support their clients at the toughest times,” he explains. “What we’ve enabled insurers and financial advisers to do is to build out their protection solutions beyond just writing a cheque. This allows people suffering medical conditions to get the financial support they need but also the physical and mental support they need.”
It also allows financial advisers to increase their value proposition and have a powerful story at critical time for their clients, he says.
“It comes down to that moment of need as an advisor to be able to say to clients: ‘We’ve got you covered financially, and we will get that underway and get your claim submitted. But also, because you have this policy in place, you have access to these services.”