Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey

The future of health benefit plans

Sanofi Canada established its premiere survey of private health benefit plans in this country almost 25 years ago. The information compiled in its annual online survey helps companies build benefit plans for employees and employers to protect the health of their workforces and improve productivity.

We thought sharing some of the key takeaways from the 2020 survey would be beneficial as it occurred in January and February 2020 just before the pandemic lockdown. This synopsis could act as a new baseline for the emerging post-pandemic (fingers crossed) trends.

Breaking the survey down into sections, we’ll review the personal and mental health aspects of wellness and chronic disease management before focusing on the value of health benefit plans and wrapping up with future considerations.

Keep in mind that respondents to the survey are plan members and plan sponsors while reading through the blog. Let’s start with wellness.

Wellness

Role of the workplace

“The message is clear that the high marks go to workplaces with a positive wellness culture. All stakeholders—plan sponsors, insurance carriers and consultants—can really build on that together. And for employers who don’t have a wellness culture—yet—we can make it a goal to bring them onside, one small step at a time.” Shannon Darvill, Silverberg Group

In case the quote didn’t give it away, wellness cultures are good for business. Employee attraction, retention, and job satisfaction are all key components. The top three factors were:

  • Safety,
  • Good relationships with colleagues, and
  • Good relationship with the supervisor.

Many plan sponsor respondents indicated their intent to invest in overall health and wellness outside of their benefit plans, which might include more effective incentives and alternate work arrangements.

Personal health

There is a preference towards the use of digital devices or online apps for plan members who have existing chronic health conditions as well as those who consider themselves in poor health. Poor health is identified as taking three or more medications.

Digital or online tools included:

  • Any online tool,
  • Fitness trackers,
  • Mobile apps,
  • Website programs/apps, and
  • Online health risk assessments.

Mental health

“Mental illness has reached alarming levels among teens and students in universities, and that’s our future workforce. We already see the shift in claims data. The solution is not just about more money, it’s about using technology to improve access and increase cost-effectiveness. We have to get at this now, or else mental health claims at staggering levels are going to be the new norm.” Bill Papadimitriou, Desjardins Insurance

Clearly, mental health was the top issue of 2020 and continues to be going forward. Younger employees (18-34) are reporting higher levels of stress and are requiring more time off work. To counteract this trend, the survey cites the need for preventative mental health measures like resilience training and increased maximums for counselling.

A key note in this area is that social workers could be an alternative to add to the list of eligible providers, which are accessible through community-based family service agencies.

Chronic disease management

Chronic diseases (conditions/pain) contribute to missed days of work or difficulty in performing work tasks, arriving late or leaving early from work, or sick days. Respondents by age clearly showed that younger plan members report much higher rates across all of these categories.

A key takeaway from this area is that plan sponsors need to receive more information about chronic diseases and need to consult advisors who use data analysis to create strategies for long- and short-term objectives.

Value of Health Benefit Plans

First and foremost, the majority of plan members rate their health benefit plan as excellent/good. Concurrently, they agree that plans are important when considering a job offer and play a role when deciding whether to stay with their current employer. Comparatively to previous years, these responses continue to improve with steady year-over-year increases.

Another important takeaway is that more plan members appear to appreciate the value of benefits in supporting their health. Spending money on these plans seems to make good business sense, as employees perceive plan sponsors favourably when considering employment or give them pause when thinking of leaving for outside opportunities.

Future Considerations

Opportunities and challenges

In planning for the future of benefit plans, the percentage of plan sponsors that have at least one major benefit plan concern was up. Top areas of concern included:

  • Drug plan sustainability (42%),
  • Dental plan sustainability (39%)
  • Absence/disability (32%),
  • Use of paramedical benefits (29%), and
  • Benefit fraud/misuse (28%).

Considering areas of improvement, sponsors want to improve plans with more benefits or services to manage chronic diseases, with better coverage for specialty drugs, and to prevent illness. As well in the area of chronic disease, they’d prefer their insurers would make other products or services available in their plans and do more to support plan members.

For plan members with chronic conditions/pain, they’d prefer higher coverage for existing products or services over the same level of coverage or new offerings.

Future directions for health benefits

“Virtual healthcare is expanding and rightly so. It provides personalized medical support anytime, anywhere. The financial benefits are significant, and employees are very interested. They are ready. The time has come to seize such opportunities to reinvent group insurance through digital means.” Mélina Lamarche, La Capitale

Oddly, vaccinations rank at the top of new benefits that plan members would like. Remember, the survey was completed before the pandemic lockdown. Virtual care was a benefit shared between plan members and sponsors, while members showed additional interest in fitness classes and genetic testing.

Driving toward better value

While most plan sponsors said they have a specific objective for their benefit plan in the coming year and would like to receive more information regarding the disease states in their workforce, most lack the time to share the information or create a plan as to how to best manage strategies going forward. What seemed to resonate with most plan sponsors was:

  • A desire to achieve long-terms gains in employee health and productivity, and
  • Achieving stronger connections between health benefit plans and overall business objectives, and to occupational health and safety.

We hope that this summary gives you a glimpse into existing and emerging trends in benefit plans. As always, we encourage you to talk to us to find the best, most cost-effective, and appropriate solution for your small business. To read the full report, click here.

Plans are always changing and so are your and your employees’ expectations. We are the experts with benefits solutions for small business. It’s all we do. So, when you’re ready to invest in your employees, business, productivity, and in yourself, talk to us first. We’re small business owners, too.

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