There has been much discussion about Canada’s changing workplace demographics and a looming workforce shortage. Accordingly, Canada’s Aboriginal population— including First Nations, Inuit and Métis—are being looked to as a key solution to Canada’s current and future labour market needs.

The most recent statistics available show that the Aboriginal population is the fastest growing in Canada, with 45% growth between 1996 and 2006, compared with the 8% growth of Canada’s non-Aboriginal population during the same period. The median age of the Aboriginal population in 2006 was 27—13 years younger than the median age of non-Aboriginals. Statistics Canada predicts a 41.9% increase of young Aboriginal adults in the Canadian labour market between 2001 and 2017.

To address this demographic change, many workplaces have adopted progressive recruitment and retention practices aimed at Canadian Aboriginals. However, while these same employers are already engaged in workplace health promotion efforts, lagging behind are health and wellness initiatives aimed at the challenges faced by this population.

Aboriginals have a significantly higher proportion of Type 2 diabetes, at three to five times the non-Aboriginal population, as well as a greater incidence of hypertension, heart disease, kidney disease, some cancers and rheumatoid arthritis. As a result, there is an opportunity for more specific health promotion to reduce risk factors, the progression of these chronic diseases and their complications.

Plan sponsors should review their benefits coverage to ensure that the plan members with chronic disease have the coverage available for the treatment and tools they need to effectively manage their condition and halt or slow its progression. Additionally, while the promotion of smart consumerism is important for plan sustainability in the long term, so, too, is the removal of barriers to treatment compliance. A Canadian Diabetes Association statistic indicates that 60% of Canadians do not comply with their prescribed therapy—not because it is too onerous but because they simply cannot afford it.

When selecting an insurer as their carrier partner, employers with significant Aboriginal populations should ensure that the insurer is knowledgeable about the parameters and benefits available under the Government of Canada’s Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) plan, understands the order of payers and co-ordinates submitted claims with NIHB automatically. Automatic co-ordination removes the onus of upfront treatment and service payment from the plan member, removing the cost obstacles for adherence to treatment from the plan member at the same time. Where employees are living or working in rural or northern settings, electronic claims submission and mobile site capabilities are key technological considerations.

A number of employee assistance program providers have incorporated traditional cultural practices of Aboriginal peoples into the scope of services and modes of treatment available, and offer a wider range of counselling options as a result. Aboriginal employees can choose culturally reflective counselling services that incorporate spirituality or receive counselling from an Elder, for example. The availability of wellness coaching services can also be a useful tool for those employees who wish to reduce their health risk.

When northern or remote workers make up a large part of an employer’s workforce, access to health practitioners can be a problem, especially where treatment of a chronic health condition is concerned. Some employers have taken a work site healthcare approach, teaming up with healthcare providers that they regularly dispatch to the remote work site for healthcare delivery.

Employers can create partnerships for health promotion and support with organizations and foundations such as the Canadian Diabetes Association, Canada Kidney Foundation or The Arthritis Society to provide support materials, educational articles, speakers and assistance for organizations wishing to address specific chronic health challenges. Many of these organizations also offer Aboriginal-specific curricula and tool kits for employers that incorporate traditional practices, address some of the barriers to care and are available in a variety of languages.

Most Canadian insurers have robust health and wellness information on their plan member-facing websites and mobile sites that can be promoted as credible tools for all plan members. This can include educational and treatment information about diseases such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, but can also include nutritional and dietary information such as considerations for northern or remote workers where access to fresh food is a challenge.

Engaging in health promotion and chronic disease management is becoming increasingly important for Canadian employers as a whole. As demographics continue to change within our labour market, employing culturally sensitive health and wellness benefits and programming will be an important factor in the success of these efforts.

Kim Siddall is a vice-president and local practice leader at Aon. She has more than 20 years of experience in the health and benefits industry. These are the views of the author and not necessarily those of Benefits Canada.
Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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