(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.
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Link: The Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey, 2018.
Dave Dickinson, B.Comm, CFP, CLU, CHFC
Experienced Benefits Specialist ready to optimize your group benefits and pension plans.