The Public Service Alliance of Canada recently filed a policy grievance against the Treasury Board for its management of the transfer of the Public Service Health Care Plan to Canada Life Assurance Co., which has impacted tens of thousands of federal public service workers covered under the plan.

In 2023, the federal government implemented two modifications to their employee benefit plans as a result of amendments negotiated via collective bargaining agreements, including moving its plan administration from Sun Life Financial Inc. to Canada Life, which led to delayed access and complaints from employees.

These challenges and delays caused significant concern for patients, their families, doctors and pharmaceutical company patient support programs, notes Suzanne Lepage, a private health plan strategist.

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The PSAC’s grievance, filed in February, argues the employer’s actions violated the collective agreement by implementing the transition without regard for the rights of all members to a functioning health-care plan and did so in a manner that violated the human rights of workers.

In an emailed statement to Benefits Canada, Chris Aylward, the PSAC’s national president, said when the federal government announced the move, the union provided recommendations on how it could ensure a smooth transition, including the implementation of a full-time call centre that could support members during the change. “Pay and benefits are essential services, and our members deserve better from this government, Canada’s largest employer.”

The PSAC is still seeking remedies for the problems the transition caused, including a declaration that the employer has violated the collective agreement and an order that the employer compensate members for all harms experienced since the transition to Canada Life.

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In an emailed statement to Benefits Canada, a spokesperson for Canada Life said the insurer is continuing to deliver benefits and services to plan members and their dependants under the PSHCP, noting call centre wait times are currently under 30 seconds on average and claims are processed within one day.

When transferring a large benefits plan like the PSHCP, planning and pressure testing the anticipated service levels are key, says Lepage. “There will likely be an increased need for service during a time of transition. Having the right amount of staff in place and considering how long it takes to answer the phone, how many calls you can answer, is [a necessary form of] pressure testing.”

In an emailed statement to Benefits Canada, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat said the government and Canada Life continue to work together to resolve any ongoing challenges PSHCP members may be experiencing. “Since Canada Life implemented its customer service action plan in early November 2023, we have seen significant improvements to call centre wait times, as well as the claim reimbursement turnaround time.”

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