Tag Archives: Health Spending Accounts

Employees less satisfied with workplace health programs

As the battle continues south of the border to create a viable program that will allow the majority of Americans to access some form of health care insurance, Canadians continue to rejoice in the foresight of Saskatchewan’s Tommy Douglas, the father of Medicare in this country.

But many elements of health care like drugs, dental care and para-medical practitioners (i.e., physiotherapists and psychologists) are not universally covered by government programs. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), total health expenditures were expected to amount to $6,299 per Canadian in 2016, with about 30% of these expenditures coming from the private sector.

Employer-sponsored plans fill a significant portion of that gap. That’s why employee perceptions of their workplace supplementary health plans and how companies juggle priorities to meet these expectations is so significant.

The 20th Anniversary of Canada’s premier survey on health benefit plans, The Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey reveals surprising facts. According to a press release released by the company, the 2017 study highlights that barely half (53%) of employees say their health benefit plan meets their needs extremely or very well, down from 73% in 1999 when the question was first asked.

Surveyed employees would also like more flexibility in their benefit plans, and strongly support coverage for products or services that typically are not covered today, such as screenings to determine personal health risks, coaching sessions from health experts and adult vaccinations.

A clear majority (70%) — up from 58% just a year ago — would also consent to their benefit plan’s insurance carrier accessing their personal claims data (for instance, the drugs they are taking) in order to receive personalized information to help them manage their health (for example, information about their personal conditions). 

Traditional versus flex 
Currently, 77% of employees report having traditional benefit plans, which define what is covered and the levels of coverage. However, 54% of employees would prefer a flex plan, where employees can choose types and levels of coverage. Health spending accounts (HSAs), which provide employees with a certain amount of dollars every year to spend as they wish on allowable health-related items or services, are another way to bring some flexibility into benefit plans.

Employees with HSAs are more likely to agree that their plans meet their needs very or extremely well (60% versus 50% among those without HSAs). Currently, 31% of employers offer health spending accounts, increasing to 47% among employers with 500 or more employees.

“Today’s challenge is to find the balance between flexibility and complexity in an environment where more flexibility is being demanded,” notes Jonathon Avery, Director of Product, Group Benefits, Manulife Survey Methodology. “Technology has simplified doing business in virtually every industry, and has the power to make suggestions for plan members and guide their actions based on previous interactions and personal claims behaviour.” 

Chronic disease gaps and personalized treatment
Year after year, employers significantly underestimate the presence — and therefore likely the impact — of chronic disease in the workplace. More than half of surveyed employees (57%) report having at least one chronic disease or condition (such as depression or high blood pressure), climbing to 72% among those aged 55 to 64. Yet plan sponsors estimate that just 32% of their employees have a chronic condition.

More than a third (37%) of employees with chronic conditions take three or more medications on a regular basis and are therefore the most frequent users of drug benefits plan. A convincing 73% of them would be interested in coaching from a pharmacist to learn more about their medications and conditions, if this were covered by their benefit plan.

While the science is still in early development, 67% of employees are interested in a simple form of genetic testing (using a cheek swab) to help doctors prescribe drugs that are the most likely to work for them. This increases to 76% among those taking three or more medications.

Interest levels are high to participate in the following health risk screenings: for cancer (83%), heart disease (80%) and diabetes (71%). As well, employees are likely to take advantage of coverage for vaccinations to prevent disease, particularly for tropical diseases associated with travel (79%) and shingles (68%).

Positive ripple effect of wellness
More than four out of five (86%) employees say they work in environments that encourage wellness are satisfied with their jobs, compared to 62% among employees working in environments that do not encourage wellness. Employees in wellness-oriented work environments are also much more likely to agree that their health benefit plan meets their needs extremely or very well (62% versus 43%).

However, barely half of employees (53%) agree their current work environment or culture encourages health and wellness, down from 62% in 2012. For their part, 64% of employers feel their corporate culture encourages wellness, down significantly from 90% in 2012, and 51% report offering specific wellness programs (such as onsite flu shots) or policies (such as flexible work hours). Just 31% of employers plan to invest more in health education or wellness in the next year, down from 51% in 2012 and 68% in 2011.

Danielle Vidal, Director of Business Development, SSQ Financial Group says, “With results that are clearly more favourable in workplaces that encourage health and wellness, it’s disappointing to see a decrease in the number of organizations that encourage wellness.” Vidal also questions whether employers are taking a sufficiently holistic view.

You can download the executive summary and full report here.

 

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Taking full advantage of your employee benefits

By Sheryl Smolkin

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

Everyone wants a raise and to make more money. One of the easiest ways to do that is to take advantage of your employee benefits. Here’s a checklist that can help you unlock the full potential of your workplace benefits.

  1. Maximize retirement savings
    Many employers match employee contributions to Saskatchewan Pension Plan, the company pension plan or Group RRSP by as much as 5 or 6 per cent of their employees’ salary. Over time it’s worth a bundle.
  2. Consider company stock
    Your company may have a payroll deduction plan that lets you buy shares at a discount. It is a taxable benefit and any decision to buy company stock should be part of your overall investment strategy. When Nortel failed, many employees who owned company shares lost both their jobs and a significant chunk of their nest eggs.
  3. Submit all medical bills
    Often your pharmacy and dentist will submit bills directly to your insurance company. However, other bills must be submitted by you. Check out your plan to see what’s eligible, keep the receipts and submit them. Even small amounts add up.
  4. Coordinate benefit plans
    If you and your spouse, or partner, have benefits make sure they are co-ordinated. Instead of getting a portion of your bills paid, you may be able to collect it all by using both. If a root canal costs $1,000 and your company only pays half, you have a lot to lose.
  5. Health Care Spending Account: Use it or lose it
    Health Spending Accounts are a popular way for employers to give employees benefits choice. The company provides a lump sum, say $500, which can be used to pay for things not fully covered by the basic medical plan. Check your benefits information to understand how your HSA works. Also make sure to read and act upon statements or emails advising you that your HSA balance will be forfeited if it is not used by a certain date.
  6. Monitor your maximums
    Make sure you know how much you can spend each year for dental work, physiotherapy, massage therapy, orthotics or glasses. Time your appointments and purchases accordingly.
  7. Maternity and parental leave top up
    Ottawa pays up to $501 a week for 50 weeks of parental leave, after a two-week waiting period. Many companies pay full salary for the waiting period and top up to 95 or 100 per cent of salary. To be eligible for the government and company benefits you have to accumulate at least 600 hours of insurable employment in the previous year or since you lasted collected benefits.
  8. Employee Assistance Plan
    Employee Assistance Plans offer a lot of value. They are available at no cost to you by telephone 24/7. Getting the help you need when you need it is priceless if it means you can function well enough to keep your job or hold your family together in a crisis.
  9. Tuition reimbursement
    Many companies will pay for tuition if the course is approved and you pass. If your employer is willing to fully or partially fund an Executive MBA, you’ve really hit the jackpot. The 2013/2014 fees for a distance MBA from Athabasca University can be up to $50,000.
  10. Get fit at work
    Take advantage of in-house gyms, sports teams and wellness challenges to get fit for free. Working out is also more affordable if your employer has negotiated a corporate rate at a fitness club and/or subsidizes fitness club memberships.
  11. Use up your vacation days
    Your company probably has restrictions on unused vacation that can be cashed out or carried over to the next year. Check the rules and use them up.
  12. Corporate travel
    Corporate travel can be more of a pain than a perk if it takes you away from home for long periods. However, business travelers rack up a huge number of airline points. Some companies allow employees to charge travel to personal credit cards and retain airline points for personal use. And airline points you earn on the job are not a taxable benefit. Also, if you are going somewhere interesting and your hotel room is paid for, you may be able to take your family along on a vacation for a fraction of the normal cost.

Do you have tips for employees to maximize their use of employee benefits? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

06-Oct Seniors Colleges, universities offer free tuition for seniors
10-Oct Thanksgiving Paying it forward: Volunteer opportunities
17-Oct Halloween Cheap and cheerful costumes, snacks