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.|