How To Put Together An Employee Medical Benefits Package For Expat Staff

As a human resource officer or the manager of a small business, you will at one point or another face the prospect of putting together an employee benefits package for your staff.

Employee Benefits (EB) refers to compensation other than salary provided by an employer. Examples include group insurance (medical, life, and travel), income protection, annual leave days, tuition reimbursements, and pensions.

Perhaps the most complicated benefit to determine adequate coverage for is medical insurance. In Singapore, the Ministry of Manpower requires employers to provide a minimum level of medical cover to every employee. However, in today’s competitive labour market, the attraction and retention of top talent who have high expectations for compensation require offering more than just the bare minimum.

When providing employee medical benefits for expats, there are a number of factors to consider, such as geographic coverage, cover for pre-existing and chronic conditions, benefits for dependents, and the cost.

Typically, employee medical benefits include a combination of the following coverage:

  • Hospitalisation and inpatient care

  • Outpatient treatment: general practitioners and specialists

  • Maternity: pregnancy and delivery

  • Wellness benefits: annual health check and preventative care

  • Dental

  • Optical

In the current, not-so-attractive expat package climate, it is tempting to shift expats to local packages with reduced medical benefits (such as excluding cover for family members and low limits on covered items). This may seem like a short-term solution to cutting costs, but in reality it can leave the organisation awkwardly positioned in the labour market.

For the existing employee who relocated with a top medical benefit in their contract, he or she now has to seek out top-up options and separate policies for their family members. Reduced morale and a sense of distrust are just mild emotions employees may feel towards their employer once they find out they are not adequately covered. These instances lead to poor staff retention. Staff attraction also suffers, even though limiting employee benefits packages could allow some flexibility for employers to offer higher salaries. However, the downfall of this practice is that it encourages employee loyalty to the biggest pay cheque.

Instead of lowering the level of non-salaried benefits, a cost-effective solution that works for many companies is to offer a standard salary, and package it together with high-end medical benefits in the context of an employee’s total benefits package. Would key staff so easily leave for a salary increase if their medical expenses would then have to be paid out-of-pocket? Would an employment offer look more attractive if comprehensive group medical covering pre-existing conditions were part of the package?

The money that employers save on salary expense can be used to pay group premiums on a variety of insurance products, giving the total rewards package a higher benefit reach, extended by the value of the insurance coverage. Employee satisfaction and loyalty can thus be attained through a smart promotion of the entire package of benefits.

HR departments should use employee benefits package conversations as an opportunity to increase employee engagement and to distinguish themselves from competitors by providing high-end medical insurance. From the other side of the table, expats need to educate themselves on what their employer-sponsored benefits actually cover (or don’t cover) and use them as negotiating tools to maximise their total employee benefits package.

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