A portable health benefits plan is a feasible, affordable and sustainable way to improve access to essential supplemental health and dental benefits for millions of Ontarians, according to a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute.

It found the portable benefits plan would likely cost between $3.2 billion and $4.5 billion — excluding administration costs, tax considerations or subsidies for low-income workers — assuming an average annual per-capita claim cost of $907. An estimated 3.5 million to five million Ontarians would be eligible for the plan.

“About 30 per cent of Ontarians do not have access to workplace health and dental benefit plans,” says Chris Bonnett, a principal at H3 Consulting and the report’s author, in a press release. “This is not a new situation, but it’s been aggravated by changes in the nature of work. Too many workers are exposed to high out-of-pocket costs for essential health care.”

Read: Freedom of design, stability top employer concerns around proposed portable benefits plans

A portable benefits plan would be more feasible if the cost is shared between employers, employees and the provincial government, noted the report. Assuming the province pays a third of the plan’s claims costs, the annual provincial fiscal bill would be between $1.1 billion and $1.5 billion.

“The Ontario government expects to spend $75 billion on health care in fiscal 2022/23,” said Bonnett. “If the government accepts a one-third share of estimated claim costs, then this new plan would consume two per cent or less of current health program spending. This model could solve health-care access and equity problems that have existed for decades.”

Last year, the Ontario government established an advisory panel to provide advice on the design and implementation of a portable health benefits program for workers who don’t have traditional employer-provided benefits.

Read: Ontario mulling implementing new ‘portable benefits’ for precarious workers