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As disability specialists, we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to help employers prevent and manage disabilities.

In this three-part blog, we’ll share best practices and approaches to help employers get the most out of their benefit investment and ensure their employees get the best treatment possible - as soon as possible. But let’s start by looking at a few of trends that are shaping and driving the disability management field.

Claims on the Rise - According to a 2012 survey by Statistics Canada, around 3.8 million adult Canadians reported being "limited in their daily activities due to a disability” or 13.7% of the adult population. By 2036, we can expect the incidence of disability to increase to 1 in 5 Canadians.

Why the Increase? - There are several factors contributing to the increase in claims: the aging of our population; the rising incidence of chronic disease, and the growing number of young Canadians seeking mental health supports.

As Canadians age, so too does their risk of chronic disease, which in turn can create mental health challenges such as depression. The 2017 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey indicates that 57% of Canadians in the workforce have one or more chronic conditions – a figure that jumps to 72% among workers aged 55 to 64.

At the same time, younger members of the workforce are seeking out mental health supports in greater number than their older colleagues. Millennials – who are on pace to outnumber Boomers and Gen Xers in the workplace – have grown up at a time when mental illness is less stigmatized and as such we see claims for support, treatment and even disability benefits much more readily than we did even a decade ago.

#1 Disability Category - The RGA Benchmark has declared mental health to be the largest long-term disability claims category. In 2015, mental health issues accounted for 22% of all claims. In just two years, that percentage rose 7% to 29% in 2017.

Impact in Dollars and Cents – The upward trend in disability claims is having a profound impact on Canada’s economy. At any given time, 8% to 12% of the workforce in Canada is off work due to injury and receiving workers’ compensation, long-term disability or short term disability. Every week in Canada, a half million employees call in sick because of mental health issues alone, resulting in $56 billion in lost productivity costs due to absenteeism and presenteeism, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

The Struggle is Real - Research studies show that Canadian employers are struggling to support employees with physical and mental health conditions. A 2017 survey by Willis Towers Watson revealed that 81% of employers believe their wellness programs are ineffective. Moreover, physical and mental health conditions are hurting their bottom lines due to lost productivity, absence from work, and higher spends for drugs and psychological counselling.

Their concerns are reinforced by plan member responses to the 2018 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey: 47% of plan members with a chronic illness acknowledged they had to miss work and/or found it harder to do their job because of their condition while 72% of plan members with a mental illness admitted their condition negatively affected their work.

Taking Action - This same survey revealed that employers are taking notice of the trends and taking action. Half of the sponsors who participated in the survey indicated they were “most likely” to invest more resources toward improving emotional/mental health (50%) over the next five years. That mirrors results of the Willis Towers Watson survey in which 50% of respondents said they intended to make the mental well-being of their workforce a priority in the coming years. A study by the Conference Board of Canada found that 68% of Canadian employers currently have a formal strategy for absence and disability management.

Digital health –Considerable progress is being made in disability treatment and prevention thanks to advancements in medical technology. For example, we’re partnering with Medaca Health Group to deliver online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to claimants from the comfort of their own homes – wherever they live in Canada. This service is the only one available in North America, to our knowledge, that integrates drug and psychological therapies, making it unique in the marketplace.

Pharmacogenetics –Benefit providers have access to huge amounts of data, which we can mine to gain a better understanding of the underlying causes of claims. Ultimately, this leads to faster, better and more effective solutions to disability claims. This is perhaps best demonstrated by pharmacogenetics, the study of drug response in relation to specific genes. Pharmacogenetics allows us to ensure employees are taking effective and safe medication dosages which are specific to an individual's DNA makeup, thereby reducing the probability of adverse side effects. Medavie Blue Cross is at the forefront of this evolving field to provide the best treatment possible to our claimants.

Chatbots – Chatbots is one of the ways that our industry is harnessing the power of technology and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Chatbots uses AI to make an immediate diagnoses based on the symptoms the patient provides. Chatbots can then offer self-guided online therapy, conducting conversations with the patient via auditory or textual methods.Think of it as an intelligent version of WebMD that talks or texts.

Mobile apps – Technologies like mobile apps are also being leveraged to help claimants self-manage their health, including taking drugs as prescribed. Health IT News estimates there are now 800 apps on the market devoted to mental health alone, primarily for depression and anxiety disorders. Other platforms like Internet portals, web-based support groups, along with telehealth, can help claimants access self-care tools, control their symptoms, and share their stories.

Knowing and understanding the trends will help employers meet the health needs of their employees, while managing the ballooning costs of physical and mental conditions. It’s an important first step in developing a disability prevention and management strategy. More on this in Part 2 of our blog.


Note: This three-part blog is based on a webinar titled “Disability 360: Surveying the Disability Management Landscape" as part of our series of learn-and-earn CE credit opportunities.

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About the Author
Marc Avaria

Marc has been a senior leader in the Group Benefits industry for more than two decades. In that time, he has led national teams responsible for delivering disability case management services for employers of all sizes and industries. He has also worked with some of Canada’s largest employers to develop and implement successful workplace case management programs. He started his career as a Human Resources professional and has experienced the disability management role from both the employer and insurer’s perspective. Marc joined Medavie Blue Cross in September 2016 as Vice President, Group Life & Disability Management and is currently implementing a number of key initiatives to expand Medavie’s services and leadership in Group Disability Management.

Travis Kelly

In this senior leadership role, he is responsible for a number of disciplines including quality assurance & audit services, rehabilitation services, new business onboarding, sales support and client interface. Travis brings more than 15 years of progress experience in life and disability management to his position. Before joining Medavie Blue Cross, he was the senior director of group and disability claims for another insurance carrier in Atlantic Canada and Ontario. Travis has an extensive background in disability and rehab case management practice development. He holds a Bachelor of Science from University of Western Ontario and an Honours Bachelor of Arts from University of Toronto.

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