Employers are increasingly interested in seeing more support for chronic disease and chronic pain management in their benefits plans, according to the 2020 Sanofi Canada health-care survey.

The vast majority (88 per cent) of plan sponsors said they want their health benefits plan to do more to support plan members living with chronic diseases, up from 82 per cent in 2019 and 79 per cent in 2018. The same number (88 per cent) said they want their insurer to make products and services related to chronic disease management available in their health benefits plan, so they don’t have to make special requests to opt into a new benefit.

Plan members living with chronic conditions or pain also expressed interest in more support from their health benefits plan, with 41 per cent saying they’d like higher levels of coverage for existing products or services and 23 per cent wanting coverage for new products or services.

Read: What are the top chronic diseases in the workplace?

More than half (58 per cent) of plan members reported having at least one chronic condition, which increases to 70 per cent among those aged 55 and older and 93 per cent among plan members who describe themselves as being in poor health. A mental illness was the most common condition (20 per cent), followed by hypertension (12 per cent), high cholesterol (12 per cent), arthritis (11 per cent), asthma/lung disease (nine per cent) and diabetes (eight per cent).

As well, 48 per cent of plan members said they experience chronic pain, up from 42 per cent in 2019. Factoring in other chronic conditions and diseases, 70 per cent of plan members said they live with a chronic condition and/or chronic pain. Interestingly, plan sponsors estimated just 34 per cent of their workforce has a chronic condition.“It can be a struggle to get the data to support future actions,” said Susan Belmore-Vermes, director of group benefit solutions at the Health Association Nova Scotia and a member of Sanofi Canada’s advisory board. “Plan sponsors want to do more in chronic disease management support, but we need constructive, integrated claims data analyses. We need simple benchmarks to tell us if we’re above, below or on track. Insurers and advisors who do this can really set themselves apart — and plan sponsors need to seek them out.”

Read: Webinar: Coronavirus and chronic disease: What are the effects on the workforce?

Plan sponsors may also be underestimating the benefits plan cost burden of chronic conditions and pain. Survey respondents estimated 36 per cent of their overall benefits costs could be attributed to chronic diseases and pain, but Sanofi Canada noted the estimate “likely falls well short” of the actual cost burden.

Plan members living with chronic diseases or pain reported large impacts on their productivity. More than a third (38 per cent) of respondents said their chronic condition had caused them to miss work or made it harder to do their job, though this was down from 47 per cent in 2018. When adding chronic pain to the mix, 58 per cent of plan members reported missing work or experiencing more difficulty doing their job.

Employees aged 18 to 34 (63 per cent), those who have arthritis (74 per cent), asthma or a lung disease (73 per cent) or a mental illness (69 per cent) were more likely to report missing work or having more difficulty doing their job.

These employee groups were also more likely to report taking at least one sick day in the past year to deal with a chronic condition or chronic pain. Seven in 10 (70 per cent) between the ages of 18 and 34, 71 per cent of employees with a mental illness and 73 per cent of those with asthma or a lung disease said so,  compared to 63 per cent of plan members with chronic diseases or pain overall.

Read: The numbers behind chronic disease in the workplace