Group Benefits – 40 Years of Progress

Group Benefits – 40 Years of Progress | GroupHEALTHGroupHEALTH’s journey to becoming one of Canada’s largest third-party employee benefits administrators began more than four decades ago. Change and progress in the benefits industry and in GroupHEALTH itself have marked this incredible 40-year journey. We’re so proud to continue to support companies across Canada in supporting their employees with group benefits.

The Employment Landscape

Without a doubt, the employment landscape has changed significantly since GroupHEALTH’s beginnings in 1982. The very nature of employment has changed. It used to be commonplace for an employee to spend a large part of their career with the same company. Work weeks were 40 hours and the employee spent most of those 40 hours at the company’s office or facility.

Over time this has changed. These days it’s not uncommon for an employee to change companies every few years, or to work for several employers at once. The other big shift has been the location where work is done. Technological advances mean that it is now easy to work from home, and in many industries it has become the norm.

This adds complexities to how employees are covered and how their benefits are administered. When an employer has employees working from across the country, there can be different provincial regulations that affect coverage. Prescription drugs are a good example. Publicly funded prescription drug programs differ between provinces. If one employee is working from Ontario and another is working from B.C., coordination of prescription drug coverage is different.

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Employee Health Benefit Plans

Forty years ago, only large corporations offered employee benefits. If an employee landed a job with benefits, it was a big win for the employee. These days, so many companies offer employee benefit plans that a prospective employee is no longer just concerned with the presence of benefits, but rather with the quality of the plan.

Many things have changed over the years, including how employers view benefits. Most employers now recognize that supporting employees with benefits is good for business. Employees who are healthy and happy can be a catalyst to growth and success for the business. Some of the most significant changes that have occurred in group benefits include changes to:

1. Plan Design

  • The same plan design for all organizations is no longer good enough
  • Benefit plans are now built with flexibility and adaptability to meet the needs of each organization and its employees
  • Flexible benefit plans that allow employees to have input into their coverage are common

2. Coverage

  • Benefits offered through a plan have become much more comprehensive
  • The cost of providing prescription drug coverage has risen significantly due to new technology that has introduced high-cost specialty drugs
  • Paramedical benefits (some of which may be highly valued but may not be medically necessary) are a highly valued element of coverage
  • The addition of Serious illness benefits means employees may now have coverage for disease and significant health events


3. Cost Control

  • Cost control has become a focus in plan design, meaning it is often built into the plan to get ahead of rising costs
  • Many creative ways to manage costs (without reducing coverage) have been developed
  • Employees are involved in cost control and are taught to use their benefits wisely
  • Employees may be rewarded for choosing more efficient or lower cost alternatives
  • The sustainability of the benefit plan is a major focus


4. Mental Health

  • Over time, awareness about mental health has increased
  • Organizations now strategize how they can support mental health as part of their benefits plan
  • Including an Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) as part of the benefits plan has become commonplace
  • Many disability claims are now related to mental health


5. Wellness

  • The idea of practicing healthy habits to attain better physical and mental health has become embedded in many benefit plans
  • Benefit plans have begun supporting a proactive approach to health, as compared to early years where they provided benefits to respond to disease and illness
  • Wellness benefits such as subsidized gym memberships, smoking cessation programs and personal training can be included in any benefits plan
  • The younger demographic may place a higher value on wellness and how it is incorporated into the workplace

Operational Changes

The past four decades have seen a tremendous change in the way that employee benefits are accessed and administered. Technology has meant many aspects of employee benefits have been digitized.

For employees, much of their interaction with the benefits plan is now digital. 40 years ago, an employee would have to fill out a paper form to enroll in the benefits plan and could access info on their plan via a large paper benefits booklet. These days, enrollment is online and employees use a mobile app or web portal to find information on their benefits plan, make claims and receive reimbursement.

How employers administer the plan from their end has also changed. Many aspects of this process are now paperless. With digital records and administration, time and resources necessary to administer the plan have decreased substantially. Online administration supports the new trend of working remotely -something that was simply not possible when we started this journey back in 1982.

Looking Ahead

Living through 40 years of progress in employee benefits has been both exhilarating and challenging. Events like the COVID-19 pandemic and various financial crises in the world have necessitated changes in benefit plans and how we support employers. Throughout all of this our mission remains the same: to transform the ways that Canadians experience benefits. We’re looking forward to another 40 years of providing Canadian businesses and employees with innovative, effective and affordable benefits.

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