I recently attended the 2013 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey presentation in Toronto. The survey captures – among other things – how Canadians understand, utilize and value their health care plans. The survey confirmed what we all know to be true, that benefit programs are highly valued by employees and that they feel their employers should do more to help prevent disease and injury, rather than just pay for treatment. I expect this will continue to be the case as the incidence of chronic disease, cost of medications and cost of treatment continues to rise.
The survey found that 55 percent of employees indicate they have been seriously injured, or are afflicted with one or more chronic conditions. This includes arthritis, cancer, heart disease, COPD, high blood pressure and mental illness. Yet plan sponsors – whose business it is to be educated on these statistics – believe that a much lower percentage actually suffer from these very conditions that require the ongoing use of the company’s health care benefits.
We can’t ignore that chronic disease is taking a toll on people and on businesses. We are all paying the price through the resulting decrease in productivity and the increased financial burden that is being placed on public and private health plans as well as on the overall economy. The Sanofi survey confirmed that Canadians are reaching for their prescription medications before resorting to changes in diet or exercise (the most difficult changes to make) in order to manage chronic illness. While medications are important, we need to place a higher priority on diet and exercise as an effective means of preventing and managing chronic illness. And we need to set up a system to facilitate that, if we are to be successful.
What ultimately has to be discussed and what in my opinion, should be integrated within all health benefits plans, is how we can work to prevent chronic illness. Employees feel that the government and their employers should be doing more to help prevent disease, illness and injury and the Sanofi survey revealed that there has been a tremendous shift in the perspective of employers in this matter. Employers are becoming aware of the prevalence of chronic disease among their employee populations and are willing to engage, but they need help. I believe now is the time to ramp up the discussion of prevention and associated wellness initiatives because there appears to be a readiness for change.
Prevention takes a coordinated effort. Ask your advisor to help assess your company’s opportunities and readiness to support employee health and wellness today.