With Albertans facing higher dental fees than people in other provinces, benefits plans are particularly helpful when it comes to paying their bills. But at Calgary-based tax services provider H&R Block Canada Inc., many employees still found the company’s dental plan’s inadequate for covering the bulk of their dental expenses.

“People wanted to see if they still had coverage if they went to B.C. where dental was cheaper to get crowns or braces because . . . the prices in Alberta were astronomical,” says Claire McSorley, director of total rewards and human resource systems at H&R Block.

Have your say: Are Alberta dental fees still too high?

So H&R Block Canada reviewed not only its dental plan but also its entire benefits package last year, says McSorley. While the province’s dental fees were a factor, the company also took note of its engagement survey, which indicated that employees were unenthusiastic about their benefits.

In March, the company rolled out its new benefits plan during a company-wide presentation with enhanced dental coverage as one of the main highlights.

Previously, the company offered 90 per cent coverage for basic dental work and 50 per cent for major procedures, says McSorley. It also limited dental expenses to $1,500. Now, it offers full and unlimited coverage for basic work and covers 60 per cent for major procedures with a limit of $3,000.

Employees, who didn’t expect such substantial changes, were generally happy with the new benefits, says McSorley. “Someone said, ‘Oh God, I hope it’s better than last time.’ Last time, our big surprise was adult orthodontics.”

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But while a highlight of the benefits overhaul was increased dental coverage, there were also other components that resonated with employees, says McSorley. The company now provides full coverage of prescription drugs and it increased paramedical coverage to $750 per practitioner from $750 for all service types.

H&R Block also replaced vision-care coverage with a $500 health-spending credit card that employees can also use for other health expenses.

“We were paying an astronomical fee in vision care, but our claims didn’t really support what we were paying. So we took a different approach to that and it turned out well,” says McSorley. Employees not only find the credit card convenient but they can also use it for other health expenses, she says.

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Beyond enhancing its health benefits, H&R Block also changed employee assistance providers and hired a Canadian company to replace an American one, says McSorley.

She notes having the new local provider addresses the unique needs of Canadian employees and helps them access immediate assistance. “It was more realistic for our employees to pick up the phone and talk to somebody here and say, ‘You know what, my house is flooding; I don’t know what to do,’ versus calling [a provider] down in the States to get a referral.”

And besides offering benefits to its full-time employees, H&R Block also facilitates discounted coverage for its seasonal employees who work during the busy tax season, adds McSorley. While their plan is separate from the company’s group benefits offering, seasonal employees pay 22 per cent less in premiums than those who buy coverage individually.

Read: How do Alberta’s dental fees compare to other provinces?

Those employees can choose the type of coverage they want and they can continue using their plan even when they leave the company, says McSorley.

While changing a benefits plan is no easy task, the company was able to strike the right balance between costs and employees’ needs by analyzing all available options and using its consultant to negotiate prices, says McSorley.

And while the employer will pay more for benefits, it takes pride in the fact it responded to employee feedback, she adds. “It was more about paying back our employees than anything . . .. We had to give back to the employee so we could say, ‘We really appreciate everything you do. Here’s something more to help you and your family.'”

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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