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[HR] The Future Is Now – Benefits Trends 2018

Get ready for another big year. Two shifts are happening in the composition of the workforce – Gen Z is moving in as baby boomers are moving out, and the gig economy is taking over an increased share of the workforce. Gen Z, what are they like exactly? Fascinatingly, it seems that this new cohort are part traditionalist, part exceedingly modern tech-natives. Collaborative yet independent, pragmatic and valuing security, these are the key motivators for this group. At the same time, employers have to remember that they don’t see technology as an alternative way to communicate, it literally is how they communicate and get information. So with all this demographic and value shifting, here are the trends we see shaping 2018 and beyond:

  1. A Personalized Benefits Experience

The advent of mobile platforms, help bots and AI, A multigenerational workforce with increasing diversity, and the need for instant access to relevant information, has led to an increasing desire for a more personalized and secure benefits experience with new data security needs to ensure privacy and confidentiality. Initially employee benefits were used as a talent attraction and retention strategy tool, now as an organizational strategic imperative they’re being used for employee engagement and loyalty.

Based on demand, we can expect to see a more seamless secure ecosystem integration between third party administrators, brokers and carriers.  With significant accumulation of historical health claim data available, plan members and sponsors can expect a more integrated approach from their providers to create more personalized insights and support around their benefits plans – An employee’s past claims history can provide guidance in decision-making around flexible plan options, and providers can use that data to send mobile push or email notifications to members to ensure they stay compliant with their treatment and coach them on healthy behaviors. The information can also help them make better, more educated buying decisions as they look to purchase products and services. The more the above scenarios comes together, and as more touchpoints are created, there will be a stronger need to secure this entire ecosystem and the client data contained therein.

  1. High-cost drugs & Employer Strategies to Contain Health Care Cost

Rising health care costs is the problem of our lifetime, spending is growing exponentially, and while there isn’t a single solution on the horizon to address this problem, employers will be working within their own means to take charge of containing costs. The key is understanding what the problem really is. Typically, a small number of the employee population (around 5 percent) drives the majority of health care costs. What’s even greater is that those costs are typically driven by conditions that, with proactive management, can be reduced.

Plan sponsors are also expressing increasing concern about the effect of high-cost drugs on their benefits plans as new medications with high price tags continue to become more common in the market. It is obvious that while these drugs can certainly have significant consequences on the sustainability of benefits plans, they also raise competing issues for employers, as they try to determine how best to spend benefits dollars, and who shares the costs of the covered drugs. The introduction of OHIP +, on Jan 1st 2018, by the Ontario government will have a small positive impact on overall cost with impacts ranging from 2-4% depending on individual plans. Additionally The Ontario Trillium Drug Plan essentially covers the cost of most catastrophic (i.e. high cost) drugs, for those either without private coverage or where private coverage is exhausted, after a deductible based on family income is paid. This has potential (as applicable) to be at the forefront of managing escalating costs.

We’re likely to see more plan sponsors adopting an increase in out-of-pocket costs for members through cost-sharing arrangements, the addition of or changes to co-insurance or caps on reimbursement levels and fees. Employers can use that as an opportunity to drive both a greater employee appreciation for the true cost of benefits, as well as engage their workers as active participants in plan sustainability. For 2018, those employers that leverage tools and services to support a data-driven plan will find that they can truly understand what is driving their cost, build targeted communication plans to drive behavior change and monitor that performance so adjustments can be made quickly in order to get results.

  1. Medical Marijuana

While this isn’t a new trend, it will be a prevalent theme this year as employers try to determine how they’ll deal with medical marijuana – in scope, eligibility in benefits plans and the costs associated with this. There is also the workplace health and safety consideration that needs to be taken into account, with potential internal policy changes for employers. As of this writing, employers, insurance carriers and employees are looking to the anticipated federal legislation to provide some clarity on a course of action. This legislation is expected in July or August of 2018. One thing is for certain, it seems to be inevitable that over time medical marijuana will make its way into employee benefits plans and providers will include this option as a covered benefit item, with a medical prescription.

  1. Mental Health

Though mental health is hardly a new trend, it is now more likely to stay at the top of employer considerations and benefits plans for a while.  With the passage of Bill 127, starting January 1, 2018, people with work-related chronic mental stress may be eligible for WSIB benefits. Overall, mental-health claims continue to drive absenteeism, disability and drug costs, both as a primary diagnosis and as a co-morbid condition alongside chronic health issues. There will definitely be a larger focus on increasing awareness about the prevalence of mental health issues, as well as efforts to address associated stigma. As employers continue to adapt the national standard of Canada for psychological health and safety in the workplace to their own companies, we anticipate a move towards mental-health first aid training, which will continue to cascade through organizations – with provision of training for people leaders and emphasis on equipping managers with the tools to effectively accommodate employees living with mental-health issues to help them either stay at work or have a positive return after an absence. However, access to timely and appropriate mental-health care in Canada remains a challenge for many people, so we anticipate growth in the development of workplace tools, new program offerings and alternative access to care or treatment to be an big growth area for 2018

  1. Personal & Financial Wellness

Financial wellness as a concept has slowly gained traction over the past few years and is received more attention, especially since it seems to be linked to physical and psychological employee health. Though not a direct “Health” consideration, we anticipate a growing trend of employers looking to support employees through Financial wellness workshops, certain tools, or counselling around this topic. While budgeting support and debt management tools have been available to employees through employee & Family assistance programs (EFAP) for some time, they’ll increasingly come to the forefront or be highlighted as part of an employer’s overall wellness offering. With the advent of financial Robo-advisors and more self-managed, direct investment options available to individuals, it will be imperative, now more than ever to understand and support the physical and psychological impact of Financial wellness on employee health.

From a personal wellness perspective, on site wellness programs and gym memberships are among some of the strategic offerings we could expect to see through 2018 and beyond. Another strategy that has been employed in larger organizations is the possibility of integrating a “work perks” programs by sending money saving deals to plan members for products and services based on pre-defined interests or past purchasing behavior.

Overall, we’ve already seeing and emerging trend of a more personalized benefits experience for plan members. There will be a further unbundling of services and a drive to more flexible plan offerings with a focus on customization to plan member’s unique needs. With considerations to privacy confidentiality and consent to information sharing, it may well become a prevalent trend as time goes by. Time will tell.

With almost 30 years of expertise, The Beneplan Co-operative is a member-owned and governed organization, that delivers employee benefits at the lowest cost possible, year after year. With one of the lowest total admin fees in the country, and a refund agreement on premiums paid for Canadian group benefits, there are very few carriers in Canada who can beat Beneplan’s low pricing model and profit refund agreements.