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Understanding the value and purpose of your group benefits plan

Welcome to the second of our seven-part Sanofi Insights – a series of articles created to provide you with insights into highlights of the 2020 Sanofi Healthcare Survey results.

One of the questions asked of plan members in each Sanofi Healthcare survey is how they view and use their benefits plan. This year’s responses highlighted an important shift in thinking compared to the responses provided in the 2016 survey. The response choices were:

  • Extra compensation, and try to use it as much as possible to get money’s worth
  • A way to help take care of health, and try to use it only when sick or to prevent illness or injury
  • Both

The noteworthy result is that 22% chose Extra compensation, and try to use it as much as possible to get money’s worth, compared to 35% in 2016. This is an important shift with respect to entitlement.

The response, A way to help take care of health, and try to use it when sick or to prevent illness or injury moved in an optimistic direction from 43% in 2016 to 60% in 2020. This is positive, as opinions matter for this question and shifting away from the middle ground allows for more understanding.

The answer Both, reduced from 23% to 18%. When the plan sponsors were surveyed, they cited the main purpose of offering a group benefits plan is to keep employees healthy and productive. In 2014, the top response was to provide peace of mind for employees.

The answers to these questions provide great insight into the plan member and plan sponsor perspectives as to whether benefit plans are truly serving their intended purpose. There seems to be a shift towards a deeper, more holistic perspective.

Flexibility

The desire for flexibility within benefits plans is clear throughout the survey results. Plan sponsors were asked specifically about health spending accounts (HSAs), wellness accounts, and employee assistance programs (EAPs). Of these options, EAPs are included most often with 61% of plan sponsors confirming that this service is included in their benefits plan. The prevalence of the HSA is also high at 57%, and wellness accounts at 35%.

When plan members were surveyed about their HSAs, it was clear that this benefit is valued and utilized. When asked what percentage of their HSA was utilized in 2019, the majority said 50% or more. Plan members who had credits remaining at the end of 2019, said they simply didn’t need to use all of what they were entitled to. Interestingly, a large portion of the plan members surveyed who didn’t use their HSA said either they forgot about it, they felt it was too complicated or time-consuming, or weren’t sure what HSA dollars could be used for.  This reinforces the need for clear communication around benefit plans to ensure plan members understand how to use their coverage.

Feedback

A recurring topic throughout the Sanofi Insights Series is the importance of regular feedback and active benefits plan management. The survey included a question to plan sponsor that asked whether they receive reporting and analyses of their plan’s claims data. The response is positive at 69% saying yes. However, 43% of those who said yes receive this feedback occasionally, or worse, only when requested. Optimistically, a more significant portion of the yes responses receive plan reviews on a regular basis. When claims data isn’t reviewed, there’s a missed opportunity pertaining to trends analysis and ultimately, plan sponsors don’t understand their plan activity and coverage gaps.   This reinforces the need for a true benefits partner. Providing a service isn’t enough, there has to be value, expertise, and credible guidance on the table.

Based on the 2020 survey results, group benefit plans are generally serving their purpose. This being said, there’s always room for improvement and our Sanofi Insight Series opens this discussion. The theme of value from both the plan member and sponsor points of view is prevalent and benefits consultants play a large part in connecting these dots. It’s about bringing the pieces of a benefits plan into alignment, and based on the year we’ve had so far, we may all be craving more of this.

Shannon Darvill is a Consultant at Silverberg Group, a People Corporation Company and a Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey Advisory Board Member.

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