Past Event: Halifax Benefits Summit

September 20, 2018
Delta Hotel Halifax

The view from the East Coast

The second annual Halifax Benefits Summit will feature insightful sessions on benefits, health and wellness, and drug plan trends. With population numbers struggling in the Maritimes, how can your company ensure it provides plan members with the best, most competitive options in order to attract and retain talent? This event will offer helpful strategies to improving and creating benefits plans.

The Halifax Benefits Summit will cost $99.00 plus tax.


Who Should Attend?

All employers responsible for benefits plans, as well as brokers, benefits consultants and group insurers, are welcome to attend.


PLEASE NOTE: This event is sold out, and registration is now closed.



Francesca Allman

Sara Ametrano
Mandy Cheung

Join the conversation! @BenCanMag #HBS18


Halifax Benefits Summit

September 20, 2018
Delta Hotel Halifax

**Please note that this agenda is a draft and may be subject to change

8:00 – 8:55 a.m.
Breakfast and registration

8:55 - 9:00 a.m.
Opening remarks

9:00 - 9:30 a.m.
Session one
Employer-sponsored drug plan trends and a forecast of what's coming
Gain new insight into the factors that have contributed to the growth of private drug plans and hear more about where they’re heading in the future. This session will also explore how a national pharmacare program could impact the private plan landscape.

Joe Farago, executive director, private payers and investment, Innovative Medicines Canada

[Download Joe's Presentation]

9:30 - 10:00 a.m.
Session two
The costs and benefits of pharmacy services on private drug plans
Escalating drug costs, climbing prevalence of chronic diseases, and long healthcare wait times are common challenges faced by employers and plan members today. As highly accessible medication experts, pharmacists are well positioned to help patients navigate their drug plans and provide services to improve plan member health. This session will discuss new research that compares the costs and benefits of pharmacy services and the role that they can play in benefit plans, to support plan member’ health and wellness.

Priscilla Po, director, drug plan management, employer health solutions, Shoppers Drug Mart

[Download Priscilla's Presentation]

10:00 - 10:30 a.m.
Networking break

10:30 - 11:00 a.m.

Session three
A 38-year journey with rheumatoid arthritis
Hear from Jeff Aarssen as he describes his 38-year walk with rheumatoid arthritis from
a patient perspective. Jeff will describe the ups and downs he experienced along the way
and will outline the various progressive drug therapies that led him to attaining a strong
remission with the help of biologic therapy. He will provide a lifetime of perspective about
the attitude, resilience and hope that is required to stay in the fight.

Jeff Aarssen, former senior vice-president, sales, group customer division, The Great-West Life Assurance Co.

(This session has been made possible by Amgen.)

[Download Jeff's Presentation]

11:00 - 11:30 a.m.
Session four
Cannabis legalization: an overview on benefits coverage, workplace policy and other key considerations
As Canada is the first G7 country to legalize cannabis, our businesses must learn how to adapt to this monumental shift in policy. This presentation will provide an overview on the latest news related to legalization, cannabis usage trends, the challenges workplaces face and considerations for covering medical cannabis on benefits plans.

Jonathan Zaid, director, advocacy and corporate social responsibility, Aurora Cannabis Inc.

(This session has been made possible by CanniMed, a subsidiary of Aurora Cannabis Inc.)

[Download Jonathan's Presentation]

11:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. 
Session five
“The pharmacist can see you now”: Improving access to healthcare and outcomes for patients
Learn about healthcare services that pharmacists offer that improve access to the healthcare system, decrease delays in treatment and time away from work, and most importantly, improve patient outcomes. This session will also highlight the recent study results from RxOUTMAP (Outcomes of UTI Management by Pharmacists).

Rose Dipchand, regional manager of professional affairs, Atlantic division, Pharmasave

[Download Rose's Presentation]

12:00 – 12:50 p.m.

12:50 – 1:35 p.m.
Session six
Drug management: Balancing member care and plan sustainability
A panel of stakeholders will explore trends and challenges to providing plan members with access to drug treatment options, and the latest strategies to balance member access to care with sustainability of their health plan.

Suzanne Lepage, private health plan strategist, Suzanne Lepage Consulting Inc.

Chris Goguen, manager, pharmacy benefit strategy and partnership, Medavie Blue Cross
Dr. Jennifer Jones, associate professor of medicine, Dalhousie University
Mary Lou Robertson, health system navigator, M.L. Robertson Consulting, Inc.
Anne-Marie Smith, pharmacist consultant, practice lead, drug plan solutions, Medavie Blue Cross

(This session has been made possible by Medavie Blue Cross.)

1:35 – 2:05 p.m.
Session seven
Biosimilars…to switch or not to switch
This session will look at Canada's progress with biosimilar adoption and what public/private payors are doing to support their introduction into the Canadian healthcare environment. Ned Pojskic will discuss why there is such low patient uptake in Canada, and what strategies exist today to increase biosimilar utilization. Ned will take a look at the increasing body of evidence – both from clinical trials and registries (real-world evidence) – that supports transitioning patients to biosimilars, and he will share what a biosimilar transition program can look like, from both a patient experience and plan sponsor savings perspective.

Ned Pojskic, leader, pharmacy and health provider relations, Green Shield Canada

This presentation is currently not available for download.

2:05 – 2:35 p.m.
Session eight
Personalizing biologic treatment in the age of biosimilars:
Biologics are large, complex molecules; therefore, it is hard to predict how they may affect any specific individual. Within a therapeutic class, there may be several biologics available, so patients have the opportunity to receive a personalized “best fit,” balancing beneficial and adverse effects, lifestyle considerations, etc. This session will address the complex nature of biologics and the diseases they treat, as well as highlight data available surrounding the use of biosimilars, including monitoring, switching and interchangeability. It will discuss patient knowledge and preferences about biologics and feature a proposed framework that optimizes cost and patient options. The presentation will speak to tools available for patients and for their doctors to use in order to help make an informed decision about biologics use.

Dr. Ian Blumer, director, Charles H. Best Diabetes Centre
Durhane Wong-Rieger, president and chief executive officer, Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders

(This session has been made possible by Sanofi.)

Dr. Ian Blumer's presentation is currently not available for download.

[Download Durhane's Presentation]

2:35 – 2:40 p.m.
Closing remarks

HBS Speakers



Jeff Aarssen

Jeff Aarssen

Jeff Aarssen is the senior vice-president of sales for the group customer division of The Great-West Life Assurance Co. and its subsidiaries, London Life and Canada Life. Since joining London Life in 1980 as a group sales representative, Aarssen has held various roles including, vice-president of group sales, regional vice-president of individual sales, vice-president of the distribution division for Freedom 55 Financial and senior vice-president of GRS, Wealth Management. Aarssen is involved with several charities and organizations, both within the industry and the community. He is an advocate of the Arthritis Society, is honorary chair of Hockey Helps the Homeless for London and area, has served as vice-chair of the executive board of Huron University College and frequently speaks to audiences all over Canada about leadership, strategy and success. Aarssen received a bachelor of arts degree with a major in economics from the University of Western Ontario.



Dr. Ian Blumer

Dr. Ian Blumer

Dr. Ian Blumer is an endocrinologist in the Greater Toronto Area. He is a director of the Charles H. Best Diabetes Centre and is a lecturer at the University of Toronto. Dr. Blumer is chair of the Endocrine Society Diabetes and Pregnancy Clinical Practice Guideline Task Force and is a faculty member of Taking Control of Your Diabetes.

Dr. Blumer has been awarded Diabetes Canada’s highest clinical honour–the Gerald S. Wong Award, given “in recognition of outstanding service and contribution to people living with diabetes.” He has also been a recipient of a Diabetes Canada Special Dedication Award. Dr. Blumer has been awarded the Professor M. Viswanathan Gold Medal Oration Award, given in Chennai, India. This award honours “scientists and clinicians who have contributed significantly to the advancement of medicine in general and diabetes in particular.” Dr. Blumer has also been a nominee for both the ADA Educator of the Year award and the ADA Outstanding Physician-Clinician award.

In collaboration with the Behavioral Diabetes Institute and the University of California, Dr. Blumer is a principal investigator in research on diabetes distress in adults living with type 1 diabetes. He is also currently developing and researching the use of a smartphone application to improve patient preparation in advance of diabetes-focused health-care provider appointments.

Dr. Blumer has delivered invited lectures across the Americas, as well as in Europe and Asia, including presenting at scientific sessions of Diabetes Canada, the American Diabetes Association, the Endocrine Society, the International Diabetes Federation, the Diabetes Technology Society, the Russian Diabetology Congress, the Hong Kong Geriatrics Society, the Chinese Society of Endocrinology, the Shanghai International Diabetes Blood Glucose Monitoring Congress, the Emirates Diabetes Society, the Chennai India Debate Congress, the Malaysian Medical Association and the Japanese Advanced Diabetic Treatment Study Group.

In addition to his scientific publications, Dr. Blumer has authored nine books for patients, including works on diabetes, cooking with diabetes, prescription drug therapy, celiac disease and doctor-patient relationships. He is also a novelist, having published the young adult novel Unto the Breach, written under the pen name of Sidney Gale. His books have been translated into French and Chinese.



Rose Dipchand

Rose Dipchand

Rose Dipchand is the regional manager of professional affairs for Pharmasave Atlantic. In this role, she oversees all aspects of the practice and business of pharmacy for over sixty-five Pharmasave pharmacies throughout the Atlantic provinces. When it comes to her career, Dipchand is a pharmacist first. She has a wide spectrum of pharmacy practice and business experience, from community pharmacy, development and offering direct patient care services to academic involvement, government relations and work with drug insurance companies. Dipchand is particularly skilled in the key areas of developing various pharmacy programs and services, teaching, human resource management, the regulatory environment, private payer market and government relations.

In addition to her passion for her work with Pharmasave, Dipchand participates on numerous boards and committees with several pharmacy associations. She believes that she needs to do her part to help ensure the sustainability and evolution of the practice and business of pharmacy so that pharmacists can continue to be an integral part of the healthcare system to help Canadians live well. In addition to being a member of the Pharmacy and Health Insurance Coalition, Dipchand is currently the chair of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia (PANS), the chair of the Economics Committee for PANS. She is a member of the Pharmacy Association of New Brunswick, the Pharmacy Association of Prince Edward Island and Pharmacy Association of Newfoundland and Labrador Economics and Government Relations Committees. Dipchand is a past-board member for the Canadian Pharmacists Association.

Pharmacy Business magazine selected Dipchand as one of the top 10 leaders in pharmacy across Canada (2014).



Joe Farago

Joe Farago

Joe Farago is the executive director of private payers and investment at Innovative Medicines Canada. He joined the organization in January 2016, and in this role, he is responsible for the private payer market and the national innovation strategy. Farago is leading the pharmaceutical sector's efforts in taking a more proactive, research-based approach to addressing today’s issues, ensuring tomorrow’s workforces in Canada have strong private market coverage that is best suited to meeting their needs. Ensuring employees are healthy and productive at work is a fundamental value of healthy private drug benefits. Over the last 27 years, Farago has acquired a vast knowledge of the Canadian pharmaceutical and specialty biopharmaceutical markets. He has a wide range of experience in market access, government affairs, sales, marketing and operations. Farago has had the opportunity to be part of establishing two organizations in the Canadian market from the ground up and brings a strong understanding of market access success and organizational development. He started his pharmaceutical career with Servier Canada in 1989, and then he entered the plasma protein specialty market with CSL Limited in 2007, where he was instrumental in establishing and building the Canadian organization to a market leader. Farago attended Carleton University, graduating with a bachelor of science degree, and he currently lives in Manotick, Ontario, with his wife and their three children.



Chris Goguen

Chris Goguen

Chris Goguen is the manager of pharmacy benefit strategy and partnership within the drug management solutions team at Medavie Blue Cross. His role focuses on the development of drug management products, services and partnerships, creating sustainable cost and healthy outcomes for plan sponsors and members. Goguen joined Medavie Blue Cross in 2015, with 25 years of experience as a senior leader within the research-based pharmaceutical industry in Canada. With most of his career in strategy and relationship development with governments, private payers and other health stakeholders across Canada, Goguen has developed expertise in drug pricing, access, negotiation and patient health management strategies. He has played a lead role in development and implementation of numerous disease (drug) management partnership programs, impacting both public and private health system outcomes. 



Dr. Jennifer Jones

Dr. Jennifer Jones

Dr. Jennifer Jones is a medical doctor and associate professor of medicine at Dalhousie University and team lead of the Nova Scotia Collaborative Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (NSCIBD) program at the QE II Health Sciences Center in Halifax, NS. Dr. Jones completed her core gastroenterology training at Dalhousie University in 2004 and went on to do a clinical and research fellowship in inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) at Mayo Clinic Rochester in 2004 and 2005 under the mentorship of Drs. William Sandborn and Edward Loftus. From there she completed her master of science in epidemiology while working in the IBD program at the University of Calgary, AB. Between 2008 and 2014 Dr. Jones started as an assistant professor of medicine developing the first provincial IBD program at the Royal University Hospital (University of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Health Region). In 2014, Dr. Jones returned to Halifax to take on her new role in the NSCIBD program. Her clinical and research passions relate to quality improvements through collaborative care initiatives and patient centered program development, care access, nutritional intervention, and use of population-based data to evaluate IBD outcomes.



Suzanne Lepage

Suzanne Lepage

Suzanne Lepage is a private health plan strategist who bridges the pharmaceutical and group benefits industry. Prior to beginning her consulting practice, Lepage was national manager, private healthcare, with the pharmaceutical company Roche Canada. During that time, she developed and executed private healthcare strategies and managed a patient assistance program for biologic medications. Prior to joining the pharmaceutical industry Lepage worked in group benefits in a wide variety of roles for almost 20 years.  




Priscilla Po

Priscilla Po

Priscilla Po is the director of drug plan management in the employer health solutions area at Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaw. In this role, Po is responsible for managing and providing strategic directions on the HealthWATCH for Business® drug plan, with a focus on clinical management and product development. Prior to joining the Loblaw group of companies, she spent over 10 years at Express Scripts Canada with roles of increasing responsibility focused on pharmacy benefit management programs and services. She has deep expertise in private payer reimbursements and both traditional and specialty pharmacy businesses. Po also has a vast knowledge and experience in the pharmacy industry. She started her clinical practice as the oncology pharmacist in the Princess Margaret Hospital and later in the medical group in Eli Lilly Canada. More recently upon receiving her doctorate degree, she has teaching affiliations with the faculty of pharmacy in the University of Waterloo and the University of Hong Kong.



Ned Pojskic

Ned Pojskic

Ned Pojskic is Green Shield Canada’s (GSC) leader for pharmacy and health provider relations. In this role, he is responsible for setting GSC’s strategic direction with respect to provider and drug benefits management. He takes the lead in managing stakeholder relations with all health-care providers, including pharmacy, dental and paramedical. Pojskic is also responsible for overall drug formulary management, including pricing and policy as well as pharmaceutical industry partnerships.

With an industry background that includes a role as director of health policy for the Ontario Pharmacists Association, Pojskic is a key member of GSC’s strategic market solutions team. He holds masters and doctorate degrees from the department of pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Toronto and is currently appointed as an adjunct professor within the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the university.   


Mary Lou Robertson

Mary Lou Robertson

Mary Lou Roberston is a health system navigator at M.L. Robertson Consulting, Inc. She is a registered social worker with more than 20 years of clinical and research experience in health system navigation. From 2005 to 2016, Robertson was the medication resource specialist at the largest cancer centre in Atlantic Canada. She helped thousands of cancer patients navigate their drug plan options and was responsible for sourcing millions worth of prescription drug treatments annually. She worked with more than 45 patient support programs and collaborated with care partners on several innovative drug access pathways. Robertson's collaborative approach to that role has been featured in several publications, including Oncology Exchange. In 2012, she was recognized for her achievements in drug access navigation by Cancer Care Nova Scotia with their annual Award of Excellence in patient care. In 2016, Robertson left hospital practice to create M.L. Robertson Consulting, a unique practice that focuses on improving the patient’s experience in drug coverage navigation. She works with a range of stakeholders with the belief that a collaborative approach to navigation is essential to achieving timely and effective access to drug therapies. Robertson's work includes consulting on the design and operations of patient support programs, collaborating with the non-profit sector on patient navigation resources and contributing to drug access policy discussions. She is also the only independent provider of drug coverage navigation skills training for those working directly with patients. Robertson is a frequent guest lecturer on the challenges of drug access in Canada and its impact on patient care.



Anne-Marie Smith

Anne-Marie Smith

Anne-Marie Smith is the practice lead for the drug plan solutions team at Medavie Blue Cross (MBC). As a pharmacist consultant, she collaborates directly with clients and their benefits consultants on drug plan analysis and trends as well as identifying unique opportunities to better manage drug plans and optimize plan member health outcomes. Smith is also the chair of the cross-functional medication advisory panel at MBC that reviews all new drugs from both a clinical and pharmacoeconomics perspective. She acts a consultant on various drug management projects, and identifying trends and opportunities for plan management. Prior to joining MBC, Smith was a regional vice-president with Assure Health (now Telus), regional account representative with Johnson and Johnson and a business development consultant with a national pharmacy chain.


Durhane Wong-Rieger

Durhane Wong-Rieger

Durhane Wong-Rieger is chair of Rare Disease International (the global alliance of rare disease patient organizations). She is past-chair of the International Alliance of Patient Organizations, a member of the editorial board of The Patient-Patient Centred Outcomes Research and a member of Health Technology Assessment International Patient/Citizen Involvement Interest Group. In Canada, Wong-Rieger is president & chief executive officer of the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders (the umbrella organization of patients and patient groups), the chair of the Consumer Advocare Network (a national network for patient engagement in healthcare policy and advocacy), the president and cheif executive officer of the Institute for Optimizing Health Outcomes (providing training and direct service on health coaching and patient self-management) and the chair of FH Canada Patient Network. She is a certified health coach and licensed T-Trainer with the Stanford-based Living A Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions.

Wong-Rieger has served on numerous health policy advisory committees and panels and is a member of the Working Group for Ontario’s Rare Disease Strategy and member of the patient liaison forum for the Canadian Drugs and Technologies in Health.

Wong-Rieger has a doctorate in psychology from McGill University and was professor at the University of Windsor. She is a trainer and frequent lecturer and author of three books and many articles.


Jonathan Zaid

Jonathan Zaid

Jonathan Zaid is the director of advocacy and corporate social responsibility (CSR) at Aurora Cannabis Inc., one of the world's largest and most progressive legal cannabis companies. His responsibilities include overseeing the development and implementation of Aurora's global CSR and advocacy initiatives. Zaid also sits on the C3 industry association's medical cannabis committee.

Since 2014 - when Zaid founded Canada's foremost non-profit cannabis patient advocacy organization - Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana (CFAMM), he has been recognized as a leading expert on cannabis policy, education and advocacy. Zaid served as CFAMM's executive director from 2014 to 2018.

Zaid's unwavering commitment to advocacy has already, and continues to, transform policy among governments, insurers and industry, and is regularly featured in major media outlets. He has been honoured by multiple awards, including being named one of five "Mavericks and Movers" by the Financial Post.



For information on the speakers, please contact Sara Ametrano, Conference Editor, Benefits Canada

Event Details

Delta Hotel Halifax
1990 Barrington Street, Scotia Square, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Delta Hotel Halifax
Centrally located, the Delta Hotel Halifax boasts striking views of the harbour and is situated near the city's top attractions. Whether you're in town on business or pleasure, this four-star hotel offers spacious accommodation and quality on-site amenities; relax at the spa, take a dip in the heated indoor pool or get a workout in at the fitness centre. There's no better way to end your day than with a delicious meal at the award-winning Harbour City Bar and Grill, whose menu has been prepared with locally sourced ingredients. Get the most out of the East Coast with a stay at the Delta Hotel Halifax.

Calgary Marriott

Driving directions:

  • Travel on hwy 102 toward Halifax
  • Turn left on hwy 118 (Halifax via bridge)
  • Exit right onto hwy 111 and follow to Halifax via Mackay Bridge. There will be a $1.00 toll at Mackay Bridge
  • Stay in the left lane after the bridge and exit to downtown Halifax. Circle under the bridge
  • Continue for about 5 kms and exit right on Barrington Street
  • The hotel entrance is immediately on the right


  • Off-site parking:: $4 CAD hourly
  • On-site parking: $24 CAD daily
  • Valet parking: $29 CAD daily


Francesca Allman

Sara Ametrano
Anya Baker

Conference coverage

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