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Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey Findings:

Employees feeling the strain of pandemic

Posted by Medavie Blue Cross on November 9, 2021

The 2021 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey provides eye-opening insights into the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on health benefits, wellness supports and the work environment.

Health Concerns and Stressors

One key finding is that plan members’ health is taking a hit. Almost 1 in 8 plan members (13%) said their health was poor this past year, up from 8% a year ago ― the most significant increase since the question was first asked in 2018.

Further, the survey, formerly known as the Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey, reveals negative changes in behaviour that could lead to serious ongoing health concerns. One example is a notable lapse in healthy habits, with 1 in 3 plan members reporting a decline in physical fitness (34%) and/or poorer eating habits (31%) in the past year. As a result, plan members are experiencing a range of outcomes that can lead to or worsen physical and mental health issues. For example, 41% of plan members gained weight and 29% had increased trouble sleeping.

The top stressor was personal finances (36%), followed closely by workload (34%), unchanged from last year’s survey results. However, other main sources of stress shifted to reflect new at-home and at-work realities created by the pandemic, with 31% citing personal relationships as a stressor, (31%) health concerns including the coronavirus and (30%) work-life balance.

Mental Health Impacts

The survey also confirmed the pandemic’s toll on plan members’ mental health, with 36% reporting increased feelings of anxiety or sadness/depression, climbing to 45% among females and 41% among 18- to 34-year-olds. Mental illness is now the #1 chronic disease in the workplace, with 21% of plan members having a mental health diagnosis.

Supporting Employees

Fortunately, plan sponsors are responding by expanding their employee supports — and their employees are embracing them.

For example, of the 62% of employers that offer an employee assistance program (EAP), 40% saw an uptake in their use last year. There were also significant increases in use of mental health services (31%), prescription drugs (31%) and wellness or personal spending accounts (26%).

Though 41% of plan sponsors offer virtual health care services through their health benefits plan, that trails the 68% of plan members who are willing to receive health care services virtually after the pandemic.

Still, plan sponsors did a good job of supporting members with 67% stating their opinions of their organization had improved due to its actions during the pandemic. Nearly the same percentage of members (68%) described the quality of their health benefit plans as excellent or good.

Health Benefit Costs

The survey found that nearly half (47%) of plan sponsors experienced lower than expected health benefits costs in the past year due to the impacts of the pandemic, compared to 13% who saw their benefits costs go up.

Among employers that experienced lower costs, 47% used the savings to invest in other health benefits such as a virtual care program (19%), an EAP (14%) and/or in other ways (25%).

The vast majority of plan sponsors (71%) are concerned about the long-term impact of the pandemic on the cost of their health benefits plans, while 23% were very concerned.

Within this group, respondents felt the biggest impact would be in claims for mental-health issues among employees, excluding those who were sick with the coronavirus (64%). This is followed by mental health issues among employees’ dependants (47%) and claims for serious diseases and chronic conditions that may have worsened due to delayed diagnoses or treatments (43%). A quarter (25%) predicted the biggest impact will be the various claims for those who had contracted the virus.

As Canada’s leading not-for-profit health benefits provider, Blue Cross is a proud partner of this important study, providing relevant insights to help best support the needs of benefits plan members. Access the 2021 @BenCanMag Healthcare Survey report below.

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