In the midst of the enduring conversation about the changing nature of work and the workplace, some often underappreciated — and potentially underused — benefits have taken centre stage during the coronavirus pandemic.
This month, Benefits Canada is exploring two black sheep of the benefits plan: employer-provided travel coverage and vision benefits. In English idiom, a black sheep describes someone who’s different from the rest of the group. The reason I’m using the term for these two benefits is they’re not often highlighted in the industry and haven’t changed significantly over the past decades like other parts of the benefits plan.
But that all changed with the onset of the pandemic. First, travel coverage became a talking point as many people’s vacation and business travel plans were compromised in the midst of pandemic-fuelled restrictions and general uncertainty that kept the travel industry on its toes. And on the heels of the great remote working experiment, many employees continue to spend increased time in front of their computer screens, begging the question: Is it time for the benefits industry to update vision coverage?
In this month’s Benefits Update, an optometrist confirms that vision benefits haven’t changed since the 1990s, with the average group plan offering an average annual coverage amount of just $250. For people who wear glasses — and who may even require a second pair for screen use — that amount is no longer sufficient. In addition, the allowance for vision care doesn’t consider the significant advances in screening, diagnostic and monitors tools, meaning most benefits plan sponsors — and the insurers that design group plans — aren’t taking advantage of some potential long-term savings.
The Back to Basics looks into employer-provided travel coverage, which garnered extra attention during the pandemic that is, fortunately, leading to innovation. Over the last two years, many insurers refined and standardized the language in their travel insurance plans, with many group plans updated to include new options related to coronavirus-related restrictions.
In last month’s issue, alongside Benefits Canada’s 45 anniversary celebration, we looked at all of the change in the benefits industry over the last five decades. We’ve seen a rise in personalized and customized plans, a harnessing of new technologies and the destigmatizing of mental health, diversity, equity and inclusion topics. So why are other benefits, like travel coverage and vision care, being largely left behind?
It’s important that employee benefits — right across the board — continue to evolve. If there’s any theme I’ve noticed across the human resources, benefits and pension industries over the last few years, it’s that the concept of one size fits all is long gone. Plan sponsors and the insurers that provide group benefits must take their innovative approaches to every benefit on offer, so no black sheep becomes separated from the herd.
Jennifer Paterson is the editor of Benefits Canada.