With plan sponsors facing growing pressure from rising drug costs, is it time for them to cut back on paramedical services like massage therapy in order to keep their benefits plans sustainable?

That was one of the key issues raised by David Willows, vice-president of strategic market solutions at Green Shield Canada, during Benefits Canada‘s 2016 Benefits and Pensions Summit in Toronto last week.

Noting the growth of paramedical claims and the popularity of massage services in particular among teenagers and younger and healthier plan members, Willows said it’s time to rationalize paramedical spend. He noted the cost pressures on benefits plans from new medications and speciality drugs coming onto the market and suggested limiting paramedicals might be a better consideration than cutting back on potentially life-saving therapies.

Read: What is driving the rising demand for paramedical services?

The comments follow a recent Benefits Canada article that noted the concern about paramedical usage but suggested drug costs are a much greater concern. The debate over paramedicals has also taken on a generational tone with some people suggesting older employees are more likely to emphasize drug coverage while younger workers want a broader array of benefits to choose from.

Read: How to support Generation Z employees

So is it time for employers to clamp down on massage coverage? Is massage therapy a perk plan sponsors can no longer afford or are they a necessary part of a comprehensive benefits package that addresses the needs of employees of all ages? Are they a need or a want that’s no longer feasible given the pressure of rising drug costs?

The issue is the subject of the weekly Benefits Canada online poll. Have your say in the poll.

As for last week’s poll, 70 per cent of respondents said it’s time for governments to update the $100,000 threshold for disclosure of public sector salaries on the sunshine list. The majority said the list is getting too big with employees of all sorts now earning that much and suggested it’s time to catch up with inflation.

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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Marcel Poitras:

The solution is very simple. Just apply the insuring clause which restricts coverage to medical expenses required as a result of an illness or injury.

Tuesday, April 05 at 11:49 am | Reply


HI there, the comment made about restricting paramedical coverage in favour of better drug coverage infuriates me.
I have arthritis (and I am in my 40s) and my regular visits to a physio therapist & Massage therapist allow me to avoid having to take Celebrex (which my doctor prescribed.)
We must spend more time & money on prevention & treatments that help the illness/injury rather than just using drugs as the answer to everything. The amount that I spend per year on paramedical benefits is far less than the cost of me taking Celebrex regularly.
If anything they could add in the provision to need a prescription for treatment of an injury or illness, but to think that it is just a “fluffy” benefit is very ignorant. Thanks

Wednesday, April 06 at 9:55 am | Reply

Scott Mooney:

1) Massage benefits are often only $300; a small piece of overall benefit plan. Most plans already require a Dr.’s prescription for its coverage. 2) Massage Therapy is often great at prevention. Reduction of stress and tension, improve physical and mental states, and therefore productivity. Helps the company make more money, or at least lose less. Also, with those improvements come less time off for sickness and pain, and also less use of those medications they complain are costing them too much.

Wednesday, April 06 at 11:44 am | Reply

Joe Nunes:

Any element of a benefit program can be abused. The key is to motivate employees to take a wellness focus and use the services that keep them healthy and actively at work.

Stereotyping massage or drugs as either good or bad isn’t useful.

Slowly, benefit plans are moving away from their insurance origins towards entitlements which is going to result in more users of more services. The answer is partly to shift attitudes and partly to shift plan design to encourage employees to spend benefit plan dollars wisely.

Wednesday, April 06 at 2:22 pm | Reply

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