5 Trends in Employee Health Benefits

Employee health benefits have been around for many years, and predicting what is to come has become a favourite pastime for those in the industry. While none of us really know what the future holds, we have some fairly good predictions for the coming years.

1. A Focus on Mental Health

Mental health has gained much needed attention over the past few years, and it’s still gaining momentum. Mental health refers to a person’s phycological and emotional wellbeing. Statistics released in 2022 show an increase in the number of Canadians across all age groups who reported fair or poor mental health.

Employers need to support the mental health of their employees because it can have a very big impact on business. Employees who are struggling with their mental health have lower productivity and more absences. It can also impact claims experience in the form of more prescription drug and disability claims. No matter how you look at it, poor mental health among employees is bad for business.

Many organizations offer coverage for employees to visit a psychologist or registered counsellor along with access to an employee and family assistance program; this is a good starting point. In the coming years, we’re going to see employers exploring new initiatives and benefits to dive deeper into supporting mental health. The current offerings need to be expanded and adapted; employees are saying they’re not getting the support they need. In the coming years, we’re going to see a renewed focus on mental health by organizations and benefit plans.

2. Rising Prescription Drug Costs

The story of rising prescription drug costs is not a new one. Expensive brand-name drugs used to be the hot topic; while the introduction of generic versions of many blockbuster drugs has changed that dynamic, there is a new challenge.

High-cost specialty drugs are the newest cost driver. These drugs can have life-changing impacts on patients but can cripple the cost-sustainability of employee benefit plans. Exploring ways to control prescription drug costs and continue supporting employees is a trend that will continue over the coming years.

Ensuring benefit plans are controlling costs with mandatory generics is a just a start. Some companies are already doing it, but we will see more plans that incorporate therapeutic alternative prescriptions that support employees but also control costs.

When it comes to high-cost biologics, a generic “copy” of the original drug is not possible. Instead, bio-similar switching is the next trend that can help control drug costs. This means working with doctor and pharmacist to switch an employee from a high-cost biologic to a similar lower-cost “copy” version of the drug. Some provincial drug plans are already incorporating bio-similar switching, and we’re going to see this become more common in private plans as well. As always, the goal is still to support employees with safe and effective prescription drugs, but also control the costs of the plan.

3. Dealing with the Impact of Delayed Care

The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on so many facets of life, and unfortunately delayed healthcare is just one of the impacts. With fewer in-person medical appointments and a fear of contracting the virus, many people delayed or avoided both routine medical appointments and seeking help for illness.

This has resulted in an increase in later stage diagnosis of illness. Employee health benefit plans continue to see an increase in claims as a result of this scenario. In the coming years, the impact will continue.

A late-stage diagnosis of illness or putting off other health issues contributed to more prescription drug claims (and sometimes higher-cost prescription drug claims), more mental health issues, and more medical disability claims. The fallout from the pandemic and delayed care is likely to continue over the next year or two.

4. Wellness as Preventative Medicine

The wellness trend has been gaining steam for several years now, and for good reason. Wellness means encouraging, incentivizing and supporting employees in pursuing a healthier lifestyle. This is an employee health benefits trend that is here to stay.

An effective and impactful wellness program can improve the physical and mental health of employees while also decreasing employee health benefit costs. Wellness is good prevention. When employees pursue a healthier lifestyle, they have fewer physical and mental health issues, which translates into fewer prescription drug claims, fewer disability claims and higher productivity.

There are many ways to support employees with wellness. Ideas include: a wellness spending account, enhanced Employee and Family Assistance Program, gym memberships, office fitness challenges, nutrition workshops, and more. The coming years are sure to include many more creative wellness offerings.

5. Balancing the Cost of Benefits

Canada is experiencing high inflation right now and that means everything is costing more than it used to. This isn’t just hard on individuals, it’s hard on businesses. Everything is costing more for the business; choices must be made in order to stay solvent.

This trend sees business owners struggling to balance the cost of paying for employee health benefits with the reality that those benefits are an important recruitment and retention tool. Jobs are still plentiful, so attracting and retaining the best employees is still an important business consideration. Business owners need those employees to ensure the success of the business.

Business owners will increasingly find ways to support employees with health benefits, while containing the costs associated with those benefits. It’s a fine line, but an important one when it comes to recruitment and retention.

Good advice is key

Do you have an employee benefits provider that keeps you “in the know” when it comes to industry trends? Do you have a plan in place to address trends in health benefits that are coming your way? Review your options with one of our licensed advisors on the phone or in-person or contact us for a comparison quote.

Whether you’re looking for extended health and dental coverage, disability coverage, or life and critical illness coverage, GroupHEALTH has affordable benefit packages that work as hard as you do.

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