(This post is about a 4-minute read)
This year’s Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey (SCHS) results revealed some familiar themes and invited readers to sit up and take notice. Now into its second decade, the longest-running annual survey of health benefits took shape as an online survey, with over 1500 plan sponsors responding between January 2nd and 9th. The overarching message, about making connections between many different aspects of health care plans is timely, with a significant proportion of sponsors feeling challenged to administer their plan’s day-to-day activities and “look beyond costs and make connections with organizational health” (SCHS, 2018, p.32). It goes on to explain the state of health benefits plans on four planes: current state, disease awareness, wellness, and evaluation.
The first strand paints a picture of what the current focus and the current state of health benefits plans is. Plan sponsors continue to focus on cost management, seeking comprehensive, yet affordable and sustainable coverage from insurance partners. At the same time, they are trying to address several equally tricky issues that are competing for time and attention. It’s a quest to get members to revere their coverage as both highly valuable and high quality by fine-tuning plans with the right combination of features – ranging from flex choices to wellness programs and Health Spending Accounts (HSAs).
The next focus for the survey turned to how health and chronic disease awareness are informing and influencing some of the critical ideas, discussions and decisions that plan sponsors and plan members view as important. The effect these conditions afflicting the workforce are having on workplaces is palpable. There’s a recognition on the part of both sponsors and members that much more must be done, and quickly. Interestingly enough, members now seem to be less reluctant than in previous years to look for help from sponsors. This could be an indication of a slight nudge in reducing the stigma associated with management of mental health conditions for instance, or a renaissance in recognizing the potential power of health information can be harnessed for a greater good. The key takeaway is that examining data with a different, holistic and integrated lens should be the next evolution in data management for sponsors. It will take innovation and cooperation between carriers and advisors to make this a reality, but the first to do it will up the ante for everyone else.
The survey then turns to an examination of trends in workplace wellness programs, making the bold statement that wellness programs and wellness culture must coexist. It weighs the importance of one versus the other, and lands in a surprising place based on some interesting trends being revealed in the data. The message to, “start with the ‘wellness culture’ of the work environment before considering changes to the health benefits or implementing wellness programs” is sage advice for organizations of all sizes (SCHS, 2018, p.32).
Lastly, we see how having a set of clearly defined long-term objectives for health benefits plans, as well as several short-term goals, correlates with increased value rankings when plan sponsors conduct reviews and evaluate their programs. It’s a leading practice that’s work a look.
Real stories, real solutions
One of the most compelling parts of this year’s survey are the case studies that share experiences and perspectives, offering new ideas for advisors, insurers and sponsors to contemplate.
For instance, a “Closer Look” on Drug Costs – which still dominates as the most utilized coverage category – points to some interesting trends that are expected to continue. It seems that drug cost increases may actually be levelling off. Looking at the data, the narrative we’ve been hearing for many years around how “higher-cost specialty drugs” are pushing expenses higher is giving way to a new culprit: more claimants who file more claims. In fact, it’s this factor that has “accounted for 75% of the growth” of drug costs within benefits programs in recent years (SCHS, 2018, p.10). There are similar examinations of osteoarthritis, adult vaccinations and heart disease.
“Employer Profiles” give us a further glimpse into some of the challenges and innovations that these featured companies are working to solve. The stories are shared with transparency and help kickstart thinking and actions for readers to take. For example, one small employer shared how by partnering with a provincial government association inspired the introduction of a low-cost, volunteer-driven wellness initiative. Another looks at the experience of an industry player who initially offered a subset of its 47,000 employees the chance to participate in a pilot project on sleep health. The success of that pilot showed the value in the results, and they’ve determined that the return on their investment benefitted not only the participants but made great strides in addressing absenteeism.
As in past surveys, the advisory board offers a final informed synopsis with their experienced and skilled insider views leading to thoughtful interpretations of the results. This year, it’s a list of the Top 10 Calls to Action for providers and sponsors.
One of the reasons we like this survey so much is because it represents the voices and opinions of so many plan sponsors across the country. As a benchmark, we can have discussions with plan sponsors about their own programs and reflect on whether they are experiencing similar events. We’d be pleased to book time to review these calls to action in the context of your own benefits program.
Contact us. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Link: The Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey, 2018.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey (SCHS). It reflects how 1500 plan members and 461 plan sponsors feel about their health benefits and organizational health issues based on a cross country survey conducted in January 2017.
The SCHS provides valuable benchmark data on the views of survey respondents and can be used to assess plan sponsor and member needs, particularly for those revisiting their benefits plan design or strategic philosophy on benefits.
And the survey says...
The overall theme of this year's survey seems to reflect a slightly downward trend in 3 major categories.
1) Plan member satisfaction with their health benefits plan appears to have dropped. Only 53 per cent of plan members reported that their benefits plan met their needs extremely or very well. This is a big drop from 73 per cent who reported the same in 1999. However, when plan members are satisfied with their jobs, have access to health promotion programs and spending accounts, they are more satisfied then those without these elements.
Perhaps not surprising, non-unionized and private-sector plan members were less satisfied with their health benefits plans than those in unionized and public-sector plans.
Additionally, plan members who are in poor health were less likely to report that their benefits plan met their needs. There was also a growing perception that employers choose cost control over benefit quality. With this perception in mind, plan members feel less obligated to control costs based on the choices they make as healthcare consumers.
2) Fewer employers are making changes to benefits plan design.
Over the next few years, 11 per cent fewer employers are considering making changes to their health benefits plan design. (42 per cent in 2015 compared to 31 per cent in 2017).
Of the 31 per cent anticipating changes to their plan, what are they going to do? Respondents said they would restructure the plan design (39 per cent), introduce new or increased benefits (38 per cent) and finally, introduce or enhance wellness and illness prevention benefits (36 per cent).
3) Health promotion is levelling off.
While there remains significant unmet mental and physical health needs in our country along with an alarming increase in chronic disease conditions, plan sponsors report their appetite for investing in wellness and health prevention is waning. Even though there are significant workplace issues with stress, anxiety, depression and work-life balance concerns, only 31 per cent of employers plan on investing in wellness. This percentage is down from 68 per cent in 2011.
There could be a number of reasons for this levelling off all of which might be specific to the plan sponsors surveyed. Regardless, promotion of a culture of health in the workplace and looking for practical and affordable ways to prevent the prevalence of stress and chronic disease from growing is necessary. Part of our role is to help plan sponsors find ways to make strategic investments in their benefits plans that are sustainable, valuable and drive toward tangible outcomes. For more information on this topic or other ways to effectively manage benefits plan costs, please contact us. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Just as certain as snow is to arrive in Canada in winter and tulips are to bloom in spring, we, in the benefits industry, await the results of the annual Sanofi Canada Healthcare survey every June. While the focus of the questions may vary, the analysis of the results consistently proves to be of value whether from a plan sponsor, plan member or service provider perspective.
The 2016 findings continue to compare and contrast the views and wishes of surveyed plan members and plan sponsors. Where plan sponsors may wonder how plan members view the use of their benefits, the survey helps to bring clarity. Of the 1,500 plan members surveyed across Canada, 43% view health benefits plans as something to use only to treat or prevent illness or injury whereas 35% see it as extra compensation and something to use as much as possible to get their money's worth. Another 23% see health benefits as both a resource for health and extra compensation. Surveyed plan members also gave high marks for their plan's coverage of prescription drugs, basic dental and paramedical services. They were least likely to rate their health care spending account and vision coverage as excellent or very good.
How did plan sponsors respond to the same questions? There were noted differences between the degree of satisfaction compared to those of their plan members. While both parties rated prescription drug, basic dental and paramedical coverage highly, there was a 20 point differential in more favourable responses by plan sponsors in each of these three categories. Where plan members felt vision coverage was less than excellent or good, plan sponsors responded this way regarding vaccine coverage instead.
Demographic differences continue to surface and are reflected in the survey responses. Specifically, this was noted in plan member responses in massage therapy claiming patterns. Of all survey respondents, 43% of plan members indicated they submitted at least one claim for massage therapy in the past year, Millennials (born between 1980-2000) were more likely to get massages to relax or relieve tension (47%) where Baby Boomers (born between 1947-1964) were more likely to seek out massages to treat injuries or conditions.
Another insightful survey finding pertained to chronic disease in that 59% of plan members reported having at least one chronic disease or condition. Of those age 55 to 64, 79% of them reported having been told they have a chronic condition such as arthritis, asthma, cancer, depression, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol or other. This percentage dropped to 40% for plan members age 18 to 34. Understanding the demographic makeup of one's organization is an important data source for predicting claiming patterns specifically where high cost prescription medications may be needed to treat chronic diseases. Those diagnosed with chronic conditions would like to know more about their disease and how to treat it. They also would be agreeable to meeting with a healthcare coach if available through their health benefit plan.
When asked if it is hard to change their lifestyle habits that they need to change in order to improve their health condition, 67% of plan member respondents said they somewhat or strongly agreed this was the case. The result? More emphasis to support chronic disease management is warranted in the workplace. Finding ways to motivate plan members to make the necessary lifestyle changes will continue to be a lofty and difficult challenge. Only 28% of plan member respondents said they are doing fine when it comes to getting enough exercise with 40% indicating they were doing fine with eating healthy and 41% reporting they were getting enough sleep.
The 2016 survey creates a call to action from its advisory board that health benefit plans must change if they are to survive and "fulfill their potential as agents for productivity in the workplace." Good news here is that 81% of plan sponsors would like to know where costs are coming from based on the health profile of their organization. There is a real interest in using data to eliminate conjecture and subjective hunches. Survey findings such as the Sanofi report create an opportunity to dialogue and surface additional questions that are organizationally specific. Looking to the Sanofi survey findings allows plan sponsors to compare and contrast what's happening with the views and experiences of their own plan members and potentially allow them to drive healthy organizational outcomes.
Is it time to look at your group benefits plan in light of this year's Sanofi survey findings? Let's connect to discuss benefits trends, claim patterns and proactive solutions. Please contact us, We're here to help so you can focus on what you do best.
Every year I post a blog with high level findings about the Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey results. This report is one of Canada's premier surveys on health benefit plans and reflects the opinions of 1500 primary holders of group health benefit plans. The data was statistically weighted to ensure age, gender and regional composition reflect those of the adult population according to recent Census data. (If you are looking for more detail about the survey itself, I've included a link to the full report on my Resources page.)
This year's survey reveals that respondents are diving deeper into what they are looking for in terms of data and return on investment (ROI) statistics for health and wellness programs (72 percent). They also want a greater understanding of the ways their benefit plan affects health outcomes and productivity (76 percent). They are also looking for more information about paramedical services and how plan design triggers utilization.
I'm encouraged to see these results because it shows that plan sponsors are looking for more information in the areas where trusted advisors are well positioned to help them. We want to assist plan sponsors make the links between health benefits, wellness and chronic disease management along with the correlation to benefit plan design.
In the past, I've written a fair bit about the affects of benefit plan design, communication best practices, and employee engagement. My team knows that these three areas contribute to prevention awareness and help employees make more informed choices about their state of health and well-being. We also recognize that when workers are healthy and content, they are going to show up at work in ways that lead to greater focus, energy, and productivity on the job.
This year's survey also highlighted an important concern relating to the link between benefit plans and the prevalence of chronic disease. When asked the question, plan sponsors estimated that only 26 percent of their workforce had a chronic disease whereas 56 percent of plan members reported living with a condition that fell into the chronic disease category. Perhaps it remains that plan sponsors don't feel that they are able to move the needle enough to positively affecting health outcomes for their workforce.
Working with a trusted advisor can help these plan sponsors move out of this mindset and enable greater health and productivity through the implementation of a more strategic approach that isn't seen in the traditional light.
Having a group benefits plan is more than the cost of doing business in order to remain competitive. It is an important way of offering preventative resources and support for employees to manage their state of health. Understanding claims utilization patterns such as paramedical services can prove beneficial. The survey reported that 47 percent of plan members submitted a total of 7.3 paramedical claims on average. This statistic falls close behind prescription medications at 9.5 claims on average. When it comes to paramedical services covered under the plan, the survey also suggests that there might be value in considering the need for eligibility based on clinical criteria versus self-perceived needs of the plan member.
The more we are able to collaborate with insurance providers to appropriately mine the plan data, the greater our ability to help the plan sponsor develop a benefits strategy that will meet their needs 3 to 5 years out, thereby increasing their confidence about the plan's value.
We believe that this collaboration is essential to our success and we have an impressive track record of working with the various insurance providers. We know that there is more work to be done to develop greater support for employee health and wellness and we're ready to roll up our sleeves and begin this strategic journey. Please contact us to begin a conversation. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
The results of the 2014 Sanofi Canada Healthcare survey reveal that the generational cohorts do not share the same view toward employee benefits. As mentioned in Part 1 of this blog topic, Generation Y (born 1980-2000) holds more of a sense of entitlement toward benefits. With the exception of health spending accounts, this generation is less likely that other generations to rate each part of their health benefit plan as important.
But what about Boomers (Born 1946-1964) and Generation X (Born 1965-1979)? The survey finds that when these cohorts were asked what options they would consider to enhance their employee benefits plan, the selections turned toward eldercare slightly ahead of personal benefit offerings such as fitness equipment and genetic testing. This response perhaps mirrors what is happening in the Canadian landscape. Many working Canadians are considered part of the "sandwich generation" that is raising children as well as supporting their aging parents and/or relatives.
The 2012 National Study on Work, Life and Caregiving reported that 40% of caregivers admit to overriding feelings of anger and frustration, while 25% are anxious. The Study also found that caregivers were much more likely to miss work.
Aside from the generational issues at play, there is a misperception that employee benefits will continue post retirement. In fact, the survey found that 48% of plan members expect access to their current health benefits while the reality is that only 23% of the plan sponsors offer post-retiree benefits. It is employees working for companies with 1,000 or more employees who are more likely to have this expectation. Employees working for a small businesses generally don't share the belief that they will receive benefits post retirement.
Beyond the size of the organization, regionally, there are differences in the views of plan members. Those working in Ontario are more likely at 52% to expect benefits while Albertans are less likely at 31%. Non-union employees in the private sector have lower expectations at 28% then unionized employees in the public sector at 53%. Not surprising, 83% of plans with unions provide access to existing or separate plans after retirement. In the private sector, this percentage drops to 8%.
So what can be done? One answer that the advisory panel and others consider vital is the need for greater, more engaging communication that happens sooner rather than later. Plan members close to retirement (63%) are more at risk of expecting benefits than employees who are 18-34 years old (42%). Benefits communications should educate about the basics of group insurance coverage as well as provide practical steps that equip the plan member when it comes to making better and more informed choices now and in the future.
Understanding the value of benefits among the different generations as well as dispelling misperceptions about continuation of post-retirement benefits can be a challenging prospect, particularly when a plan sponsor wears many different hats.
We're here to help. Contact us so that you can spend more time focusing on what you do best.
This week marks the launch of the 2014 edition of the annual Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey. With presentations taking place across Canada, opportunities are created to gain insights about health benefit plans and the views of plan members.
Conducted from January 6-13, 2014 with a national sample of 1,502 primary holders of group health benefit plans, the survey now in its 17th year reveals that plan members are increasingly interested in the workplace doing more to support personal health.
The opinion leaders and employers profiled in the report indicate that more information is needed along with a fresh approach from benefit providers. What factors into the conversation is the concept that stakeholders recognize the need to manage health, not just manage the cost of benefits. Throughout the report, the message is consistent: those who manage health benefit plans as an investment, not a cost, reap the returns of improved productivity, reduced absenteeism and higher levels of employee engagement.
As the workforce ages, the propensity for sickness increases. In fact, half of the Canadian workforce has at least one chronic disease. The survey revealed that plan sponsors who look to create healthier workplaces not only improve their competitive advantage, but they help lower the stress on Canada's public healthcare system. As a result of the survey findings, the private sector is sent a call to action message: regroup and partner to seek sustainable solutions to unmanaged chronic disease as it is the biggest cost driver for plan sponsors.
This report also focuses on two timely and relevant topics: generation gaps and benefits after retirement. With more and more Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) retiring, the window for Generation Y (born 1980-2000) to assert themselves is increasing. Differing from their post-war, baby boomer parents, they are more likely to see benefits as a right and they also are more willing to trade benefits for cash. Part 2 of this blog topic covers key findings related to the generational differences.
With regard to benefits after retirement, the survey reported that 48% of plan members expect access to their current health benefit plan after retirement. With one third of the workforce looking to retire in the next 15-20 years, plan sponsors and carriers will be challenged to raise awareness around post-retiree benefit options. Currently, less than 23% of surveyed plan sponsors offer post-retirement benefits.
A common theme that resonated with the opinion leaders and profiled plan sponsors included the importance of addressing misconceptions and improving communications to feature the purpose of employee benefit plans. Communicating the value of benefit plans to employees is nothing new, but there are innovative and engaging ways to move the dial forward on the topic. For help in addressing this issue or to explore additional details regarding the Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey, please contact us. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Dave Dickinson, B.Comm, CFP, CLU, CHFC
Experienced Benefits Specialist ready to optimize your group benefits and pension plans.