According to the 2022 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey, over 80% of employee benefits plan sponsors believe COVID-19 will have an impact on the costs of health benefits in the next five years. Among these participants, the majority (46%) anticipate mental health claims (excluding those from employees that are sick with COVID-19) to be most affected by pandemic-caused cost increases. Meanwhile, 39% of respondents expect to see the biggest impact on claims for physical and mental health from those that have contracted COVID-19, and 36% believe the category most affected will be claims for serious diseases or chronic conditions worsened because of delayed diagnoses and/or treatments.
OVERLOOKED IMPACT OF COVID-19
According to members of the advisory board for the Benefits Canada Healthcare Sruvey, delays in testing, diagnoses and treatments could be leading to plan sponsors underestimating the impact of COVID-19 on serious or chronic diseases. These delays are likely to cause a ripple effect on secondary conditions or co-morbidities - the longer an individual leaves a condition unmanaged, the higher their chances of developing additional physical and mental health conditions. Although disability claims paid may have dropped compared to pre-pandemic times, these costs are expected to rebound due to the increased severity of diseases once they are finally diagnosed and treated. The potential consequences of long COVID are still unclear, partially because the condition has yet to be fully defined for diagnosis.
HAVE PLAN SPONSORS MADE CHANGES TO THEIR BENEFITS?
Around 62% of plan sponsors indicated their health benefits plan did not change in 2022. Among those who did, 30% added benefits or improved coverage levels while only 7% removed any benefits or reduced coverage levels. Results were quite the opposite in 2021, with 11% reporting they had added or improved benefits and 28% reporting they had removed or reduced benefits. Employers that had added or improved benefits were primarily those with unionized employees, those in the public sector and those with 500 employees or more.
WHAT EMPLOYEE WANTS FROM THEIR BENEFIT PLANS
The following are the benefits that plan members indicated they (or their family) were most likely to make use of if they were included in their employee benefits:
- Health-risk screenings with a health-care professional to determine personal risks for certain diseases, such as diabetes – 32%
- Immunizations for infectious diseases – 28%
- Genetic testing to determine personal risks for certain diseases, such as certain types of cancer – 25%
- Health-care system navigation – 24% (up from 15% in 2021)
- Genetic testing to help determine which drug to prescribe (also known as pharmacogenomic testing) – 22%
- One-on-one education for people with chronic conditions – 22%
Plan members also expressed significant interest in benefits supporting diversity, equity and inclusion, such as gender affirmation and fertility treatments.
The survey advisory board predicts more demand for personalization moving forward. However, communication remains a challenge. Rather than assuming employees will automatically make use of whatever benefits they have, strategic communications and visible leadership are key to motivate and empower plan members to engage in their health benefits plans.
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