Plan sponsors have seen significant decreases in their extended health and dental claims over the past three months, according to new data by Eckler Ltd.

While the consultancy’s analysis of its large self-insured clients found plan sponsors saw an up to five per cent increase in extended health claims between February and March 2020, these claims dropped by up to 40 per cent between March and April, as social distancing rules and non-essential business closures took effect.

According to Eckler, the initial uptick was due to an increase in prescription drug claims as plan members sought to stock up on their necessary maintenance medications. However, this was offset by a decrease in non-drug claims.

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From February to March, dental claims were down between 20 and 30 per cent, and they dropped even further, between 80 and 90 per cent, from March to April.

While provinces are beginning to reopen and loosen restrictions, Nick Gubbay, principal in Eckler’s group benefits practice, says he doesn’t expect to see a sudden increase in claims since plan members are likely to still feel wary of in-person interactions.

“We don’t think many people will rush back for the services they’ve been unable to access unless they have an immediate and acute need and depending on whether they feel providers are doing the best they can to mitigate against the risk of infection.”

Read: How can plan sponsors work out the kinks in paramedical coverage?

Gubbay says he expects the largest pent-up demand will be for dental services, physiotherapy, chiropractic care and possibly vision care. “It’s partly going to depend on how effective the current virtual model has been for some services. That’s been in place for physio for some treatments.”

It will also depend on how willing and prepared providers are to see plan members in person. “A great example is dental practices, where dentists and their staff face significant risks themselves, given what they’re doing, and are probably having difficulty sourcing personal protective equipment.”

However, in the medium term — which will extend into 2021 — plan members are likely to take full advantage of the benefits they value once they start to feel more comfortable. “A good example is physiotherapy,” says Gubbay. “People have probably really missed that benefit and the feeling they get from that treatment level. Once their comfort level is up, you could see that spiking up to [pre-pandemic] or a higher level for a while.”

Read: Should plan sponsors shift their benefits plan spend during coronavirus?

On the drug side, Eckler expects claims to remain consistent over the coming months given that many plan members stocked up before the full effects of the pandemic were felt.

The consultancy also expects to see clearer indications of the pandemic’s impact on short and long-term disability in the coming months.