April 7

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COVID-19: Evolving Benefit Plans To Meet Employees Where They Are

These are truly unprecedented times. Every business, community and household has been forced to adapt in profoundly new ways to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic as it sweeps through and alters how we interact with one another.

Feeling stressed and nervous are understandable responses as we navigate through this current global health crisis. While it feels like things are spiralling, it has brought to light the need to act compassionately and focus on what we can control.

Recently, it was made public that the insurance industry will continue to operate as an essential service. The broker is rooted in the idea of being local, and consumers don’t necessarily have close relationships with their insurers. And it shows how vital a role the broker plays through times like this to help move people, services and responses around in this type of environment, and get people the help they need.

As we navigate these uncharted waters together — which will likely radicalize everything that we do moving forward — the health and safety of all Canadians takes an all-hands-on-deck effort to weather this silent storm, with everyone doing their part.

Maintaining vital coverage while making cost-savings adjustments

Everyone has had to adapt and react to this new world. COVID-19 will undoubtedly cause a tidal wave of reform that will sweep through every industry. In these challenging times, many businesses are stuck between keeping the lights on and struggling to support their staff.

Many start-ups have been forced to design some creative solutions so that business owners can maintain important benefits coverage through this time of crisis while potentially reducing the costs to their business. There will likely be a lot of tough decisions about what can be reduced or possibly removed to make way for critical resources.

  • Trimming non-priority coverage: Expenditures such as massage, or chiropractors can all be some of the first to be scaled back on in order to make way for other critical functions to support staff. It is important to note that some insurance companies will not allow for the temporary suspension of paramedical coverage, and if it is removed permanently, then it cannot be added back on to the plan until the next renewal.
  • Deferring just dental coverage: This could result in having dental claims not paid and dental premiums not being collected. One thing to keep in mind is that when COVID-19 has been stabilized, there will be a sudden increase in dental visits and dental claims. While dental premiums will not be collected for 2-3 months, dental claims will be close to what they would normally be, because people are just deferring the claims and not skipping their appointments.

Restructuring a benefits plan can bring a stronger focus on the critical resources provided for staff, but can be carrier-specific as what can be trimmed during this time.

Amid temporary layoffscheck your booklets to see what is permitted

Many employment lawyers are warning that the law does not actually permit short-term layoffs. Companies are generally required to pay fired workers a severance, and not just send them home with no pay and a promise they will have their jobs back when this is all over. It’s a bit of a grey area where many are asking if there is enough justification for employers to use temporary layoffs as a way to manage payroll costs.

While it might go down to a case-by-case examination, many employers could be facing lawsuits seeking severance payments. It’s important to refer to your booklet & insurance company to see what is actually permitted during these temporary layoffs.

Lean on telehealth to help flatten the curve

The number one job for all of us is to avoid becoming a carrier and distributor of the virus. 

With vital shelter in place provisions enacted across the country, it really makes virtual care solutions like telehealth an indispensable tool, and one that we can leverage as we respond to the demands of this situation. What was once seen as a hard-sell, is now seeing unprecedented demand for services and doctors; and many companies can’t keep up with this surge.

Telehealth is the virtual care platforms that allow health care professionals and patients to meet by phone or video chat and seems tailor-made for this moment in time. Not only can it really help flatten the curve, but it takes a lot of pressure off an already overwhelmed health-care system. The digital revolution has made impressive strides in redefining modern health care, and this mobile on-demand service is seriously showing its value in the time of an emergency by allowing users to get medical attention at the tap of a button.

EAP’s and HSA’s: The alphabet soup of high-value resources

You are not alone if you’re feeling nervous about COVID-19.

The outbreak has become a major source of stress over the past several weeks around the globe. It is natural to have feelings of discomfort, impacting concentration, productivity and even disrupting sleep patterns.

Here are the twin resources that should be thoughtfully considered when rethinking the benefits package.

  • An EAP is a crucial tool employers have available: Employee Assistance Plan’s (EAP) can help employees cope during these record disruptive times. By their very design, they have a toolkit of resources to help everyone dealing with the aftermath and impending new reality of COVID-19.

Touching on areas such as accepting what’s out of our control, how to embrace this change, how to stay focused on the big picture – and ways to keep a positive mindset. EAP’s provide workers with access to professional assistance and resources 24/7; everything from connecting with a counsellor to learning how to meditate to anxiety management.

  • HSA’s are a practical and affordable resource: Health Spending Account’s (HSA) are one of the most cost-effective ways to meet employees where they are and adapt to adjust to the changing needs of this pandemic. With stable costs that are predictable with a level of flexibility that workers can rely on, it’s one of the unsung heroes in the benefits plan that gives employees a host of resources to lean on.

Look at your mental health resources and take stock on what you can assist your team with. It will help us all build resiliency and stability during historic times of uncertainty.

Extraordinary circumstances mean extraordinary levels of support

While everyone on the global scale has been absolutely floored by reducing the costs to their business, we need human connection now more than ever. Communicate the points of coverage from plan sponsors to staff; discuss the level of details on what’s covered, refer to specific contract details so nothing is overlooked, and touch on areas of Extended Health Care when workers will really need it the most.

This is a time of connection, where communities rally and band together to get through this. We need to look out for each other. We are all in this thing together, and we will come out stronger than ever.

For a complete look at what every insurance carrier is communicating during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have compiled a comprehensive Google Sheet with all essential resources.

Get up to the minute content from every carrier’s recent bulletin, information on their dedicated COVID-19 sites, long-term disability, premium payment flexibility, telehealth options and suspended coverage.

This Google Sheet is monitored and updated every day; so be sure to check in frequently for the most recent news and documentation from every carrier in Canada.

View the Google Sheet right here.

About the author 

Chris Gory

Chris Gory is the founder of Orchard Benefits (formerly Insurance Portfolio Financial Services Inc.), a brokerage launched in 1999 that helps companies build the best benefits programs for their employees. Chris is passionate about helping entrepreneurs, and works with over 60 startup companies including Wattpad, 500px, and VarageSale. He is an advisor at the Ryerson Digital Media Zone and at the OneEleven startup hub, and he's led talks about employee benefits and insurance at several startup accelerators including Extreme Startups. Chris has also been featured in the Toronto Star and The Globe & Mail, and he's been a member of the Board of Directors of the Applied Client Network, an international association of independent insurance professionals, since 2012.


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