More than three-quarters (78 per cent) of plan sponsors say they’re concerned about the coronavirus pandemic’s long-term impact on the cost of health benefits plans, up from 71 per cent in 2021, according to the 2022 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey.
Among these respondents, 31 per cent strongly agreed with this statement, up from 23 per cent last year. Employers with 500 or more employees were more likely (83 per cent) than those with fewer than 50 employees (70 per cent) to be concerned about rising costs.
Similarly, 81 per cent of plan sponsors agreed the pandemic will impact the costs of benefits over the next five years, up from 77 per cent in 2021. Again, large employers (90 per cent) were more likely than small employers (65 per cent) to feel this way.
Within this group of plan sponsors, almost half (46 per cent) said they believe the biggest cost impact will come from employees’ claims for mental-health issues, excluding claims from those who were sick with coronavirus. Two-fifths (39 per cent) cited physical and mental-health claims from plan members who contracted coronavirus, while 36 per cent pointed to claims for serious diseases or chronic conditions that may have worsened due to delayed diagnoses and/or treatments.
“The pandemic resulted in a major reduction of in-person medical consultations, which led to increases in late-stage cancer diagnoses and chronic disease,” said Christine Korczak, national director of strategic partnerships and corporate accounts at Carepath Digital Health by Bayshore and an advisory board member, in the report. “In addition, the Canadian health-care system has become increasingly fragmented and complex. These factors have created the perfect storm. The need for clear and knowledgeable support and guidance through navigation has never been greater.”
The survey also found nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of plan sponsors indicated their health benefits plan didn’t change in 2022, comparable to 60 per cent in 2021. Among plan sponsors that made changes, 30 per cent added a benefit(s) or improved coverage levels, while just seven per cent removed a benefit(s) or reduced coverage levels. This is a reversal from 2021, when the results were 11 per cent and 28 per cent, respectively. Additional benefits or improved coverage was more likely among plan sponsors with a unionized workforce (49 per cent), in the public sector (44 per cent) or with 500 or more employees (41 per cent).
When provided with a list of 11 new or lesser-known benefits, plan members were most likely to indicate they or family members would take advantage of health-risk screenings with a health-care professional to determine personal risks for certain diseases (32 per cent), followed by immunizations for infectious diseases (28 per cent), genetic testing to determine personal risks for certain diseases (25 per cent), health-care system navigation (24 per cent, up from 15 per cent in 2021), pharmacogenomic testing (22 per cent), one-on-one education for people with chronic conditions (22 per cent), meditation/mindfulness apps (20 per cent), services to assist with caring for ageing parents (19 per cent), services to reduce substance use (nine per cent), fertility treatments (eight per cent) and gender affirmation (five per cent).
Plan members with chronic health conditions and/or chronic pain were more likely to use one-on-one education sessions to learn about their conditions (27 per cent compared to 13 per cent without a chronic condition), health-risk screenings (36 per cent compared to 24 per cent), health-care system navigation (29 per cent compared to 14 per cent), genetic testing for drugs (26 per cent compared to 14 per cent), immunizations (31 per cent compared to 22 per cent) and genetic testing for diseases (28 per cent compared to 19 per cent).
Among plan sponsors that already cover at least one of these benefits, they were most likely to cover immunizations for infectious diseases (45 per cent), health-risk screenings (41 per cent), health-care system navigation (41 per cent), services to reduce substance use (41 per cent) and one-on-one education for those with chronic conditions (41 per cent).
Among plan sponsors that don’t already offer these benefits, they were most interested in providing coverage — whether as part of their plan or through a health-care spending account or wellness account — for genetic testing to determine risks for diseases (34 per cent), fertility treatments (34 per cent), pharmacogenomic testing (33 per cent), gender affirmation (33 per cent) and services to assist with caring for ageing parents (32 per cent). Nearly two-fifths (37 per cent) of plan sponsors said they weren’t interested in covering any of the 11 listed items.