Revisiting plan philosophy for a healthier workforce

I recently attended a presentation of the 2014 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey. Now in its 17th year, the Sanofi survey boasts a long history of capturing the opinions, concerns and behaviors of plan members and plan sponsors while offering a comprehensive representation of the state of Canada’s workforce covered under employer-funded benefit plans. This introspective look is not only beneficial for consultants such as myself, but it often acts as a catalyst for industry discussions regarding benefit plans of the future.

The field of employee benefits is rapidly changing and the disconnect between the opinions of employees and views of employers is making old plans ineffective. The results of the survey helped solidify my belief that we need to realize the advantages of a healthy workforce and revisit the philosophy behind our benefits programs.

One central issue that must be addressed is the cost of prescription drug plans and its connection to chronic disease. Over the past 25 years as a benefits consultant I have witnessed the growing demand for comprehensive, employer-funded prescription drug plans and every generation (i.e. Gen X, Gen Y and Baby boomers) that responded to the 2014 Sanofi survey ranked prescription drug coverage as the most important aspect of their benefits plans – over basic dental and vision.

The increasing demand for prescription drug coverage is directly correlated to the number of employees coping with chronic disease – a number that is only increasing as our workforce ages. In fact, half of those who responded to the Sanofi survey indicated that they were coping with at least one chronic condition. Chronic disease brings about a new set of demands that along with an increase in prescription drug claims, also requires a fresh approach that includes disease prevention measures.

The survey also revealed a disconnect between employees and employers in regards to the prevention of ill health. In 2013, employees reported more chronic disease than most employers were willing to recognize.  And in 2014, the survey revealed that employees were ready and willing to participate in health risk screening programs (e.g. mental health, diabetes, heart disease and cancer) but the majority of employers do not offer such wellness initiatives as a part of their benefits packages.

I’ve often stressed that an employee’s health has a significant impact on their professional performance, and that wellness programs that encourage employees to address health concerns benefit the company’s bottom line. If we want to manage cost we need to learn to manage health and more effectively integrate wellness into our benefit plans and ultimately into our business strategies.