April 6 is National Employee Benefits Day, and a great opportunity to review your benefits plan in light of current group benefits and health care industry trends.
General trends to prepare for:
This year, the industry is preparing for a rise in health benefits spending by more than 5%, a trend that can be attributed to:
- benefits not being used consistently in the previous year due to COVID-19 restrictions
- the increase in diagnoses of chronic mental and physical conditions
- OHIP+ changes in Ontario that have had an impact at a national level
As we look towards the remainder of 2021, we can clearly identify three major trends coming out of the previous year: an increase in mental health needs and support, a rise in the use of virtual health care and the rise in costs associated with disability and chronic conditions.
Three key benefits trends:
1. Mental health is connected to overall health
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the interconnectedness of physical, mental and financial well-being.
In fact, fewer Canadians reported having excellent or very good mental health in 2020 versus 2019, with those already experiencing poor mental health having been negatively impacted by the effects of the global pandemic. Contributing factors to this decline in mental health include economic insecurity, job insecurity, social isolation, fear of illness and the burden of caregiving.
As we move through 2021 and into the coming years, we expect to see a greater emphasis on mental health and financial wellness supports being used by plan members. As such, many insurers and plan sponsors have provided additional mental health supports, especially in the digital space. It is a good idea to annually review your mental health and financial well-being supports, it’s never too late to get on board.
2. Virtual health care is here to stay
Rapid investment in virtual care solutions as a response to COVID-19 has accelerated Canada down a path that will have significant and long-lasting impacts on health care delivery, both through public health and private plans. Most insurers now offer virtual care as either an available or embedded option for plan sponsors. While in-person visits with a doctor will always be at the center of health care delivery, virtual health care plays an important role in filling a gap for quick, on-demand assessment and treatment access for non-urgent health concerns.
3. An increase in costs related to disability and chronic illness
Hospital avoidance has perhaps become the most negative impact of fear of infection. Plan members have been unable to access their general practitioner or are unwilling or unable to visit a hospital, and as such are deferring medical care. With this deferral comes delayed diagnosis and treatment, which can lead to an increase in case severity and duration. As a result, benefits costs have been rising to reflect the increase in treatment needed as well as higher short term disability rates.
The COVID-19 pandemic impact is ongoing and claim trends through 2021 will likely be magnified in the echo effect of the pandemic, particularly in areas related to chronic mental health and musculoskeletal conditions. Given the shift to working from home in less ergonomically ideal set ups and with less access to paramedical practitioners, 2021 disability claims durations are expected to be higher than average.
Beneficial for everyone – focusing on the positive out of 2020:
Perhaps the most important trend to come out of 2020 is that good mental health contributes to good overall health. Ensuring that your plan members have early and varied access to mental health and financial well-being supports, including digital options, is crucial to avoiding a sharp rise in costs in the coming years.
The best way to encourage your plan members to seek early support for chronic mental and physical conditions is to provide digital access to services whether they are embedded in your group benefits plan or as an additional service.