Plan sponsors and plan members have diverging opinions on where benefits dollars are best spent, according to the 2021 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey.

The survey found that plan sponsors and members are less aligned on the value of many benefits than they were a year ago. Indeed, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic last year, immunizations against infectious diseases were the most popular pick for both plan members (in terms of usage) and plan sponsors (in terms of interest). But this year, immunizations ranked fifth and second, respectively.

Read: Pandemic shifting benefits plan challenges for sponsors, members: Benefits Canada survey

Physical fitness was top of mind for plan members in this year’s survey. When listing their top five possible new benefits offerings, 30 per cent of members ranked fitness classes first, followed by a personal fitness trainer (29 per cent), 24-hour virtual care (26 per cent), a fitness tracking device (25 per cent) and immunizations (25 per cent).

Meanwhile, 24-hour virtual care topped the wish list for plan sponsors (31 per cent), followed by immunizations (23 per cent) and health-risk screenings with health-care professionals (23 per cent). Fitness classes (19 per cent) and assistance with health-care system navigation (19 per cent) were fourth and fifth on their list. Notably, coverage for a fitness tracking device (13 per cent) was ninth and a personal trainer (11 per cent) didn’t even make plan sponsors’ top 10. Services to help care for ageing parents was new to the list, ranking 10th (15 per cent) for members overall and surging to first position (41 per cent) among those who are caring for parents.

Read: U.S. employers increasing focus on virtual care, mental health in 2021: survey

“When planning for the future, it’s good to keep in mind the different perspectives of plan sponsors and plan members,” said Michael Bradie, an advisory board member and vice-president of growth and client service in the group benefits team at Green Shield Canada, in the report. “For example, we see it here in attitudes about where to invest additional benefits dollars. It will be really important to get this balance right — delivering the value and outcomes that plan sponsors are looking for while also ensuring those investments resonate with their members.”

While a majority (85 per cent) of plan members said they’d like more coverage for one of seven listed benefits if they could get it, their opinions varied based on age. In terms of preferences for increased coverage of a single benefit, major dental services ranked first for both respondents aged 55 to 64 (24 per cent) and those aged 18 to 24 (19 per cent).

Among plan member respondents aged 55 to 64, this was followed by vision care (20 per cent), paramedical services (15 per cent), basic dental services (seven per cent), prescription drugs (six per cent) and mental-health services (five per cent). On the other hand, among plan members aged 18 to 34, mental-health services ranked second, at 17 per cent, followed by vision care (15 per cent), paramedical services (13 per cent), basic dental services (12 per cent), prescription drugs (12 per cent) and virtual health-care services (four per cent).

Read: Employers beefing up mental-health benefits amid pandemic: survey