Benefit Plans shift to cost and mental health focus

Industry panel spotlights evolving priorities in employee benefits

Benefit Plans shift to cost and mental health focus

Employee benefit plans are increasingly focused on cost containment, mental health, and well-being, as highlighted in an industry trends panel discussion by The Empire Life Insurance Company (Empire Life), the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association (CLHIA), and The Conference Board of Canada.

This discussion revealed a shift in priorities among advisors and their customers.

A live poll involving more than 600 advisors indicated that 56 percent see balancing costs and enhancements to their benefits plans as a top priority, up 10 percent from last year. Furthermore, 36 percent view cost containment alone as the primary concern, a 17 percent increase since January 2023.

Mark Sylvia, president, and CEO of Empire Life emphasized the critical role of advisors in guiding business owners through the complexities of benefit costs and their value. He mentioned the importance of understanding the trade-offs between additional benefits and their costs.

Stephen Frank, president, and CEO of the CLHIA, noted the evolving role of advisors due to changes in the healthcare system and technological innovation. He pointed out new opportunities such as advances in virtual care and pharmacogenetics that business owners will need to consider.

Susan Black, president, and CEO of The Conference Board of Canada, stressed that despite economic challenges, attracting and retaining talent remains a top priority. This necessitates a balance between cost containment and offering attractive benefits.

Drug costs were highlighted as a significant strain on benefits plans, with more than 30,000 customers in fully insured plans facing annual drug plan costs over $10,000. Sylvia described this as a crisis, requiring concerted action from various stakeholders, including government, employers, insurers, and drug companies.

Mental health and general employee well-being are also high on the agenda. Frank mentioned that employers have increased mental health support, with payouts reaching $650m in 2022. Black confirmed this trend, noting an increase in coverage for psychological services and the adoption of strategies to support mental health in businesses.

Uncertainty surrounding government programs, including pharmacare legislation, dental care programs, and drug reform, poses another challenge for 2024, affecting group insurance plans.

The Canadian Life and Health Insurance Facts 2023 Edition revealed that the industry provided coverage for over 29 million Canadians and paid out $114bn in claims, a 10 percent increase from 2019. Specifically, $650m was paid for mental health support, a significant rise from previous years.

Empire Life, running this industry outlook advisor webinar for the third year, is a subsidiary of E-L Financial Corporation Limited.