More than half (54 per cent) of Canadian benefits plan members currently live with at least one diagnosed chronic health condition, according to the 2023 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey.
It found the top current diagnoses were a mental-health condition such as depression or anxiety (18 per cent), high cholesterol (12 per cent), arthritis (12 per cent), hypertension (10 per cent), chronic pain (10 per cent) and diabetes (10 per cent).
Plan members currently diagnosed with certain conditions — such as chronic pain, a mental-health condition, arthritis, obesity or a lung condition such as asthma — were far more likely to also report poor overall health and poor mental health.
Plan sponsors estimated more than two-fifths (43 per cent) of their workforce has a chronic condition, the closest they’ve come to the plan members’ result since first asked in 2016, when they estimated 32 per cent of their workforce had a condition versus the 59 per cent of plan members who reported ever having one. Last year, the results were 35 per cent and 58 per cent, respectively.
One in 10 plan members reported a current official diagnosis of chronic pain such as migraine headaches and lower back pain, a percentage that increased among members aged 55 and older (14 per cent).
When asked how often their pain makes it harder to get things done, a third (33 per cent) said this was their daily experience, while 22 per cent said once or twice a week and 23 per cent said a couple of times a month. Nearly three-fifths (59 per cent) said when their pain is especially bad, they don’t take any time off work. A quarter (26 per cent) said they typically need a couple of days off, while 13 per cent said they require a couple of hours and three per cent needed a week or more.
The survey also found those with chronic pain were far more likely to describe their overall (39 per cent) and mental (36 per cent) health as poor. When asked whether their work environment contributed to aches and pains, two-thirds (65 per cent) of members agreed, a percentage that increased to 78 per cent among those currently diagnosed with chronic pain.
“This new data reinforces that chronic pain has a significant impact on employees and is closely associated with mental health,” said Brad Lepp, former director of public affairs at the Canadian Chiropractic Association and a member of the survey’s advisory board, in the report. “Chronic pain is one of the top five chronic conditions and a reliance on pharmaceutical treatment carries the risk of opioid use disorder. Put that together and we’ve really framed out a conversation about why supports for musculoskeletal health need to be a more deliberate part of health benefits plans.”
In addition, the majority (79 per cent) of plan member respondents with a chronic condition reported taking at least one medication on a regular basis, while 32 per cent said they take three or more medications. Nearly a fifth (18 per cent) weren’t doing anything to treat their conditions.
The top components of treatment for members were medication (47 per cent), healthier eating (38 per cent) and more physical activity (35 per cent), followed by mental-health counselling (16 per cent) and paramedical services (15 per cent).