Half (51 per cent) of Canadian benefits plan members say they understand their plan extremely or very well, down from 65 per cent in 2018, according to the 2023 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey.

It found plan members’ top sources for information about their benefits plan were websites (69 per cent), followed at some distance by a printed booklet (45 per cent), a smartphone app (43 per cent), a toll-free number (41 per cent) and human resources (40 per cent).

The majority (88 per cent) of plan sponsors believe they effectively communicate what’s covered by their benefits plan, comparable to 2018 (89 per cent). However, they were more likely to say their communication was somewhat effective (31 per cent, up from 26 per cent in 2018) and less likely to say it was very effective (57 per cent, down from 63 per cent).

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Plan sponsors most often use email (50 per cent) to communicate what’s covered by their benefits plan, followed by their insurance carrier’s website (38 per cent), a printed booklet (38 per cent) and in-person group meetings (27 per cent).

“We have to put ourselves in the end user’s shoes and how we like to receive communications,” said Erik Larose, regional vice-president of business development for Quebec and Atlantic Canada at Desjardins Insurance and a member of the survey’s advisory board, in the report. “We likely won’t read a lengthy email with many attachments. At the end of the day, employees don’t really want communications, they want resources at the time of need. Perhaps the most important thing we can communicate — in simple, fun and creative ways — is where to go for those resources.”

Roughly two-thirds (64 per cent) of plan members said they’d agree to receive health information based on their personal use of benefits from the insurer that manages their benefits plan, while 20 per cent said they were unsure if they’d agree and 17 per cent said they wouldn’t agree to receive this information. Members with a recent major injury (80 per cent) or high daily stress (71 per cent) were more likely to agree, as were 70 per cent of members who said they understand their plan extremely or very well compared to 45 per cent among those who don’t understand their plan.

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Consenting plan members would most like to receive recommendations for services covered by their benefits plan (45 per cent), information on how to be healthy (40 per cent) and how to manage their health condition (37 per cent).

Members with chronic conditions were more interested in receiving recommendations for nearby health-care professionals or experts, including members dealing with obesity (51 per cent), arthritis (50 per cent), chronic pain (50 per cent), diabetes (47 per cent), anxiety, depression or other mental-health conditions (45 per cent) and asthma or lung disease (44 per cent).

“Plan members often don’t think about what’s available until they need it,” said Andrejka Massicotte, head of group benefits at RBC Insurance and a member of the survey’s advisory board, in the report. “They may be anxious about their diagnosis and not know where to even start. An optimal plan of care includes providing ongoing communication and clear navigation so members know where to go and understand how they can best utilize their benefits plan and the public health-care system.”

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