The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled employers to take greater stock of workplace services and supports – putting into sharper focus the need for benefits plans that reflect today’s realities, says Medavie Blue Cross’s David Adams, vice president of business development. In this Q&A, Mr. Adams offers actionable insights to protect and promote employee health and wellness.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted how Canadians approach their health and well-being?
The pandemic has changed the way people live, work and socialize. Arguably, it’s also changed people’s priorities and outlook for the future, particularly as it pertains to how they manage their health and care. According to StatsCan research conducted last year, over one-third of Canadians were very or extremely concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their own health, and over one-half were concerned about the health of someone in their household.1
With the challenges experienced over the past year, more Canadians are reflecting on whether they have what they need to feel protected, and more are considering the “what if” scenarios; finding ways to prepare for unexpected major health issues such as illness, disease and long-term injury. Employees also expect more from their benefits plans, giving companies an opportunity to build on how they support the health and wellness of their staff during this challenging time.
How can companies maximize benefits plans to continue to support employees during periods of uncertainty?
Optionality is a big trend right now among health insurers. Providing employees with the ability to add coverage to their plans for unexpected health events, like critical illness, and add additional coverage for life insurance can give employees personal risk protection and a greater ability to plan long term. In a recent survey, over 80 per cent of Canadian companies indicated they’ve added some form of optional benefits to their employee health plans, and of those who don’t currently offer optional benefits, 90 per cent are open to providing them in the near future.2
We’re also seeing a greater demand for flexibility in benefits plans, both in what health services employees can access and how they access these services. Having a plan with features like a health spending account and/or a personal wellness account gives employees greater choice – and control – over how they contribute to their well-being. With most companies having multi-generational workforces, employee health needs are more diverse now than ever before. Flexibility gives employees the ability to choose where to spend their benefits dollars. It also demonstrates a strong commitment to an employee’s personal health and wellness needs.
It’s about giving employees the ability to consult a doctor, get treatment, receive mental health counselling, physiotherapy or other services and fill a prescription – anytime, anywhere.— David Adams, Vice President of Business Development, Medavie Blue Cross
Giving employees broader options and choice is also important from a mental health lens. As the stigma associated with mental health declines, employees are ready to take control of their mental health and need a benefits plan that allows them to do so. People want options in how they access their care, such as the ability to see a mental health practitioner virtually or in-person, in a live discussion or communicating through text or emails. These are important features to consider having in a benefits plan as workplaces continue to navigate the growing prevalence of mental health issues experienced through the pandemic.
What are key elements of a benefits plan to ensure they are responsive to today’s realities?
One of the main things we’re seeing is an increased appetite for integrated solutions and platforms that give employees the ability to access all their health services in one place. Benefits plans that provide an integrated, online, virtual care experience are essential in 2021, especially with the technology that is now available. It’s about giving employees the ability to consult a doctor, get treatment, receive mental health counselling, physiotherapy or other services and fill a prescription – anytime, anywhere.
Integrated solutions are particularly important with the rise of mental health awareness in the workplace. Benefits plans should look to make it easier for people to research and book appointments with mental health practitioners such as psychotherapists, counselling therapists along with services like internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy and other digital therapy resources. And these supports should be accessible alongside other health services, removing any silos or barriers to mental health care.
Providing employees with access to a broad network of easily accessible, fully synced health services alongside optional coverage for unexpected life and health events – such as illness or injury – gives them 360° of protection to support them with risks they face today and down the road.
How can companies help employees take charge of their own health and wellness?
These trends – optionality, flexibility and integrated solutions – give employers the opportunity to create a workplace environment where their employees are in the driver’s seat of their health care. In addition, companies should encourage employees to make use of any available counselling services and education resources that are offered through their employee assistance programs and wellness portals. Some plans offer coverage for coaching to help employees gain the knowledge to take charge of their health.
Employers might also consider reimbursement programs for the purchase of wellness apps and wearable devices to help self-management of health. Not only can these initiatives help employees adopt healthy habits, but these apps and devices can potentially help improve adherence to medications, better control chronic diseases and lower risk for other health conditions.
This is an unprecedented period in our history. We still can’t project what the outcomes will be once it’s all over. Employers across Canada can become co-navigators in guiding employees on their journey to better health and wellness. While we continue to experience a variety of disruptions across industries, new technologies and benefits plan options are opening up new possibilities to help employees stay protected, connected and supported, now and into the future.
1 Statistics Canada. Canadian Perspectives Survey Series 1: Impacts of COVID-19. Available at: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200408/dq200408c-eng.htm. Accessed on February 16, 2021.
2 Medavie Blue Cross Survey. Commissioned January 2021.
Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Medavie Blue Cross. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.