Adjusting Your Benefits Offerings to Suit the Current Moment

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As businesses gradually reopen and learn to live in a pre-vaccine world, now is a good time to share some benefits-related opinions and observations. These thoughts aim to provide a perspective on what the current situation means for benefits plan sponsors moving forward.

Social distancing has raised the awareness and accessibility of virtual healthcare. Deterred from traditional in-person consultations, providers and patients alike have sought alternative ways to  maintain active treatment.

A recent survey conducted by Green Shield Canada provides a glimpse of what the future of healthcare holds. Of note:

  • 67% said they would fill a prescription using an online pharmacy
  • 43% said they would seek online mental health support
  • 56% indicated that the crisis has made them more open to the idea of using virtual healthcare
  • 78% believe their health plans should include virtual healthcare options

The crisis seems like it will accelerate the growth and popularity of virtual options. After all, it’s a great option for people who wish to take a more cautious approach until a vaccine is available and is attractive to younger generations who are accustomed to online service models.

As we continue down this path, employers will be tasked with ensuring that their plan accommodates the innovation we’re seeing in healthcare delivery so that it meets the needs and expectations of their people.

Absenteeism in the Workplace

Most employers have concerns around the mental health and well-being of their employees. It’s estimated that mental health issues carry an opportunity cost of over $6 billion a year due to lost productivity.

And the rate at which employees are claiming mental health-related disability benefits was on the rise prior to the emergence of COVID-19, and while it’s still too early to project what those rates will look like in the months and years to come, one can draw the conclusion they likely will not be going down. 

Those in leadership roles will need to be informed and educated on how to identify struggling employees. For organizations shifting towards working remotely indefinitely, the introduction of buddy systems with regular check-ins can be helpful. Both serve as front-line solutions aimed towards raising awareness.

Employers will also need to be empathetic towards the key barriers that prevent people from seeking out help, such as, stigma, cost, shortage of service providers and isolation. Employers will need to invest in resources that remove those barriers and take appropriate steps towards communicating the resources available to their people.

Evidence suggests that not enough is being done to address mental health issues in Canadian workplaces. This will become more apparent as we forge our way through the pandemic. Organizations that confront the growing mental health issues and take proactive steps towards minimizing them will be regarded in much higher esteem than those who don’t.

Change in Values

The vulnerability induced by the pandemic forced many to pause and reflect upon what’s important when it comes to maintaining the physical, emotional, and financial well-being of themselves and those close to them.

As a result, the importance of various benefits will be re-evaluated to reflect those changing values.

Employees with children will need their employers to accommodate flexible schedules to account for the closure of schools, childcare centres, and the cancellation of camps over the summer. With perceptions of remote work being positively affected by the pandemic, employers are in a position where work arrangements could be permanently changed — even in a post-vaccine world.

And with the financial implications of lost earnings fresh in a lot of people’s minds; many will shift their focus towards evaluating the protections afforded by their workplace’s disability programs. Expect to have more conversations about EI supplements and disability protection (both short-term and long-term) while the threat of self-isolation or extended recovery from COVID-19 is present. 

As the recovery continues, businesses can expect to see an increased emphasis on the importance of retirement and other employer-sponsored savings programs. The sudden loss of income for people touched by temporary lay-offs has highlighted the need for emergency funds and other savings. And for employees fortunate enough to continue working, many were able to save far more than before and have questions about how and where to invest. Companies which provide matching contribution programs and financial education will receive an advantage when recruiting and retaining staff.

We’ve already touched on mental health resources, but it’s worth emphasizing that the communication of mental health resources will be of key importance. Employee and Family Assistance Programs are a great frontline solution, but additional support will likely be needed. This can come in the form of increased maximums being applied to mental health practitioners like psychologists. It can also be addressed by embracing some of the emerging solutions provided by insurers, such as: virtual cognitive behavioural therapy, pharmacogenetics, and virtual independent medical exams.

Analytic-driven Decision Making

With all the changes taking place, employers need to keep an eye on their plan’s usage analytics for purposes of making proactive decisions.

For instance, much can be learned from noting changes in an organization’s drug spending habits. If you’re noticing an uptick in medications used to treat depression or anxiety (leading causes of long-term disability), then perhaps it warrants taking a closer look at what other programs can be put in place to remedy these symptoms.

Plans will likely see decreased spending on services that require in-person interaction (paramedical and dental) until a vaccine becomes available. Data will serve as a leading indicator for purposes of identifying changes to your employees demand for certain services and will be key in helping employers redirect those funds to programs and benefits whose demand will go up, like virtual care or employee and family assistance programs.

Closing

Looking at these topics from a broad perspective, it seems as though many of the changes we’re seeing will have a deep-rooted effect on how we interact with our benefits.

How conscientious we are of the changes taking place will determine our ability to make proactive decisions and ultimately, have a positive effect on the sustainability of the plan and the lives and health of our employees and their families.


Jaime Laprise is the newest associate member of Team Montridge. Before joining us, he worked with one of Canada’s largest insurers specializing in individual and group disability insurance planning. With a history of providing client-centric results through the implementation of thoroughly researched solutions, Jaime is committed to be his clients’ strongest advocate.

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