Hybrid of core coverage, personalized benefits touted as future of health plans

What’s the future of health benefits in Canada? A hybrid model of core coverage and personalized benefits is a likely scenario, speakers at an event in Toronto said on Wednesday.

“Our vision is really a hybrid model, where you have this traditional benefit program there to support your employee should something happen, something unpredictable that could have a big financial impact on their life, but combined with this broader view and their well-being,” said Julie Duchesne, a partner and leader of Mercer’s health business.

Duchesne made the comment as she and colleague Brian Lindenberg presented their insights at the Toronto instalment of Mercer’s second-annual series of events on the future of health care at the Ritz-Carlton hotel.

Last year’s event featured seven predictions for the future of health care by 2025. They included an estimated 130 per cent increase in health-care costs and the rise of personalized medicine like pharmacogenetics.

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“It was an eight-year prediction window, so we’re year one into our predictions. We actually feel pretty good, generally speaking, about our predictions. We feel we’re kind of on track and as the future unfolds, it will unfold in a way that’s consistent with what we’ve predicted,” said Lindenberg.

One prediction that missed the mark, he noted, was around public health-care reform and pharmacare, which Lindenberg said in 2017 would never happen in Canada.

“Clearly, we might have missed a sign. But in our defence, a lot of people missed that same sign. Clearly there’s an increased enthusiasm for implementing the national pharmacare program,” said Lindenberg.

Speaking to the need for personalized benefits, Lindenberg referenced the issues of rising costs and the war for talent, both in terms of attracting and retaining employees.

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“The game is clearly changing. In order to win that war for talent, we strongly believe you need to engage your workforce in a different way. You need to acknowledge the individual preferences of each of your employees and future employees. You need to leverage technology and what’s happening in terms of the vendor landscape to deliver a more personalized approach to your employees within the context of the age of the individual,” he said.

According to Duchesne, gathering data is key to developing a personalized approach and implementing targeted benefit programs. Targeted programs are essential to meeting the needs of multiple generations of workers and setting organizations apart, she said.

According to a global survey by Mercer conducted in 2016, 96 per cent of employers collected data but only 45 per cent used it in support of decision-making processes. Duchesne noted there are many different forms of data in the benefits field, including information about disability, use of wellness and employee assistance programs and demographics.

“The first opportunity we see is making sense of all that data through what we call data analytics. This is really important in order to better understand your workforce, your demographic and where you should invest in order to best control your costs over time,” said Duchesne.

“You need to understand your data, know what you want to do with it, why you want to do that and what do you want to do. These are good questions to ask yourself before you do anything with your data.”

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According to Lindenberg, an important data set for plan sponsors and employers is around what employees want, need and feel they’re receiving. He noted a recent survey that suggested employees value health more than wealth or career progression.

“Close to 50 per cent of your employees would like to see you invest more in workplace wellness. That’s what they need. However, your employees are also skeptical. Thirty-seven per cent of your employees don’t expect you to invest a whole lot more within the next two years and only 19 per cent think you’re investing enough,” he said.

Noting the disconnect between what workers need and what employers are offering or able to deliver, Lindenberg said knowing where to invest in wellness goes back to data, understanding cost drivers and risk factors and then putting the information into the context of employee needs and wants.

“Once you know what the strategy is . . . you can figure out how to leverage some of those new vendors and that new technology in terms of making your workplace wellness strategy really sing,” he said.

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