December 8

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How The Pandemic Is Shifting Employee Benefits

The COVID-19 global health crisis changed everything.

It changed the way we work, socialized, and lived our day-to-day lives. Everything we once glossed over and accepted as the standard has been forever altered. The pandemic forced us to adapt on the fly. It has also marked a change in behaviour with how employees take a closer look at their workplace benefits. The benefits landscape is shifting, with several significant plan design changes making their mark on 2021 and beyond.


Let’s take a look at the view from 35,000 feet on these new trends that will guide and alter the way we view healthcare in and out of the workplace.

Using the pandemic to understand and address employees’ health care and wellness needs

The pandemic has challenged employers to drive greater value through their healthcare plans to touch many different facets of their employees’ lives. We can use this experience over the last nine months to mitigate costs, turn towards well-being programs, and go on the offensive with sustainable and preventive strategies like physical check-ups and regular screenings to nip health issues in the bud.

It’s also about carving out new ways to guide and navigate employees through the complexities of the benefits and healthcare system. It is becoming increasingly important to understand the different levers of coverage, especially in this rapidly changing healthcare market landscape – and the onus is on plan sponsors to make sure it is easy to digest.

There should be a renewed emphasis on how plan sponsors can add value by empowering employees and their families to become more knowledgeable and aware of their health care. This can help improve the patient experience and mitigate the challenges and changes to their healthcare plans.

Going on the offensive with proactive measures

Unhealthy personal habits are an increasingly influential source of risk to employee benefit plan costs. Everything from poor stress management, excessive alcohol or drug use, unhealthy diets, and insufficient sleep were identified as the top health risk factors in Canada.

It’s been a stressful year – and everyone knows it. The post-pandemic reality will surely put more of a focus on encouraging and promoting healthy eating and physical activity. Building in promotional programs into plans can reduce anxiety, promote more restorative stress management, and reduce chronic conditions. It will also be a time to see a revitalized usage of Chiropractic, Massage Therapy, and Physiotherapy services again to address the number of disability claims that rose in 2020.

Rising costs are going to be a concern

According to a 2021 Global Medical Trend Rates Report, it is projected that the costs of medical benefits provided by Canadian employers will grow 6% in 2020 and accelerate to 7% in 2021, outpacing general inflation by 5.7%.

There will be a backlog of dental appointments and physical check-ups where the lockdown limited all of these in-person appointments. With the understandable prioritizing of coronavirus patients, it put a backlog on elective procedures and routine check-ups that will need to be placed back in the rotation in 2021.

Employers are increasingly focusing on areas that address how health care is delivered and paid for by offering workers far more access to telehealth platforms, mental health benefits, on-site clinics, and critical illness policies. Employers will need to understand the rapidly changing healthcare market landscape and their workforce’s shifting needs and risk profiles. It will be a tough line to toe on balancing everyday health and having safety nets in place for catastrophic coverage while being aware of costs.

PPE equipment needed for paramedicals will increase costs

The amount of PPE needed for paramedical practitioners will play into paramedical claim costs.

Ongoing PPE is needed for each patient they see and additional cleaning costs for thorough cleaning between patients. The service provider will understandably see fewer clients in a day, cutting into their revenues, so who will cover these costs? Will prices increase to compensate them for this?

The same thing applies to dental claims. Even more so in this field since more rigorous cleaning is required, or if the dentist’s office has an air purification system. If they are in a shared building where they don’t have their own HVAC or air conditioning, who will be on the line for these additional costs?

Reasonable and Customary limits will come into play with the maximum allowable amount that a carrier can reimburse on this service. It will have to be adjusted for these new costs of claims. Otherwise, employees will have to pay out of pocket.

Thinking outside the box

Analyzing and reviewing benefit plans will stretch into the creative with new benefit changes that reflect our workforce’s modern needs.

This can include new benefits, such as:

  • Providing more time off,
  • Flexibility for child care,
  • Paying for couple’s therapy. More spouses working and living together in the house has caused more conflict,
  • Offering packages with internet and unlimited phone plans that can help with remote work and schooling,
  • Wellness benefits that reflect the new work style with at-home exercise items, ergonomic chairs or supplies that enable useful at-home offices,
  • Covering at-home coronavirus viral or antibody testing kits.

Canadians’ mental health continues to worsen

In the wake of the global pandemic, anxiety and depression make things more challenging on Canadians as they prepare to head into 2021 with the pandemic still raging. Mental health issues not only impact the plan costs but the employees and employers on an individual level.

This puts the idea of the traditional benefits plan front and centre, forcing a shift away from the older model towards a customizable plan that gives workers mental health services they can access independently. Adding flexible benefits plans to cap overall benefit costs, like the increased mental health drug claims for anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications, is something we will likely see.

“The big realization a lot of these companies have had during the pandemic is that there’s so much that happens in your personal life that affects your work.Gartner

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 80 startup companies. He is an advisor at the Ryerson DMZ and he's led talks about employee benefits and insurance at several startup accelerators including Extreme Startups, OneEleven, and Ryerson's Startup School. Chris has also been featured in the Toronto Star and The Globe & Mail, and was a member of the Board of Directors of the Applied Client Network, an international association of independent insurance professionals, from 2012-2018.


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