Benefit plans valued more than ever

by Jessica Guenard-Valiquette on August 4, 2010

The perceived value of health benefit plans amongst employees has increased as a result of recent economic volatility and higher unemployment, according to the 2010 sanofi-aventis healthcare survey.

The firm’s poll of 1,508 primary holders of group health benefit plans finds that 77% of respondents say the existing economic environment has increased the value they place on their health benefit plan.

“The survey showed us that having a health benefit plan encourages Canadian employees to stay with their current employers,” says Jacques L’Espérance, survey advisory board member and president, J. L’Espérance Actuariat conseil Inc. “Employees also think more positively of their employer because of their health benefit plan.”

A majority of Canadian employees (59%) covered by a health benefit plan think highly of their plan’s quality, particularly if their employer is perceived as an effective communicator. Ninety per cent of employees believe the quality of their plan is excellent (48%) or very good (42%) among those who feel their employers do a very good job communicating health benefits.

Increasing demand
And the need for such plans is growing as Canadians adjust to the negative health issues that go with post-crisis life. Almost two-thirds (63%) of plan members say they have suffered from stress, fatigue or insomnia more often over the past year. Nearly half (45%) reported work-related issues as the biggest cause, followed by personal issues (22%), financial issues (20%), and medical issues (19%). One-third of respondents complained of insomnia—a figure that nearly doubles to 63% for those in poor or very poor health, and jumps to 50% for those with household incomes below $30,000.

However, the survey reveals that workplace wellness programs appear to be on the decline, with less than one in three (29%) plan members reporting they had access to such programs through work. Those who do have access highlight several problems with existing plans, namely that they don’t have the time to become fully engaged in them.

“When respondents were asked why they don’t participate in workplace wellness, the number one answer was time,” says L’Espérance. “They don’t have time to do their jobs, let alone attend an educational seminar or go to the fitness centre. Employers offer wellness programs on the one hand, but take them away on the other due to lack of time. This needs addressing if we hope to improve both enthusiasm for and the relevance of workplace health programs.”

And when asked how their employers specifically help manage workplace health issues, close to one in five (17%) employees said they didn’t know, while less than 10% said that they could count on their management for flexibility, availability and support.

The survey notes that coverage for prescription drugs continues to be the most common benefit, enjoyed by 94% of employees. A further 90% of employee respondents agree that it is very important for their health benefit plan to cover vaccinations.

The importance of drug plan coverage is illustrated by the 9% of respondents who said they may not fill a needed prescription if it’s not covered by their benefit plan. Among those from households with incomes below $30,000, this figure jumps to 23%. Sanofi-aventis explains that in addition to unnecessary effects on employee health, these decisions could cost employers in higher rates of absence, disability, and health-related distraction that affect injury rates and productivity.

And when it comes to helping plan members become informed consumers of pharmaceuticals, there is plenty of room for improvement. Approximately one-quarter of plan members do not know about cost differences between pharmacies, revealing a clear need for more education and information provided to employees to help them make better shopping decisions. Plan sponsors, insurers, or advisors could survey pharmacies and promote those with lower fees or that offer special services in employee communication.

This article provided courtesy www.benefitscanada.com

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