March 15, 2010
By W. Michael Thomas, CFP, CLU, CH.F.C., R.F.P.

During difficult economic times, health care plan members especially rely on their group benefits programs.

Since 1998, Sanofi-aventis, a leading pharmaceutical company, has conducted a survey to monitor the pulse of Canadians who receive employer-sponsored health benefit plans. Each year, over 2,000 randomly selected Canadian plan members are contacted to capture their attitudes and preferences about their health benefits plans, as well as their thoughts in general on the Canadian health care system.  

Feedback pinpoints issues that plan sponsors may want to focus upon when they review the health benefits they offer employees. This feedback can be particularly valuable during difficult economic times when some plan sponsors might look for ways to cut costs. Areas that were highlighted by plan members in the 2009 survey include the following:
  • The impact that stress has on employees and their productivity
  • The importance of access to health care and to employee health promotion programs
  • The overall high value plan members place on their health benefits plans

Stress is a concern

Linking stress with productivity – although almost half (47 per cent) of plan members surveyed indicated that they considered their health to be excellent or very good – many admitted that stress levels, especially during economic uncertainty, are of particular concern. A total of 28 per cent of respondents admitted that their productivity is compromised while under stress, while almost 31 per cent indicated that stress in personal lives made them physically ill, and nearly 38 per cent indicated the same with regards to stress in the workplace.

Economic stress was identified as a key concern for many employees, with employees in Alberta and Ontario most likely to feel its effects. The stress and anxiety of job insecurity is also higher in Ontario (20 per cent in Ontario vs. 15 per cent in the rest of the country).

Accessing health care was also identified as a priority for plan members. Those in excellent health (16 per cent), very good health (19 per cent) and good health (27 per cent) are more likely to find health care accessible. Results of the survey state that, especially now, plan sponsors need to continue their commitment to health promotion and health benefits plans, and make sure employees have the tools to educate themselves on health risks.

Survey participants revealed the extent of importance that plan members place on their health benefits plans. The majority (52 per cent) said they would choose their plans over a $15,000 pay out. Also, almost half (45 per cent) revealed they would keep their plan, even if the amount of money was increased to the not insignificant sum of $20,000. Most plan members (64 per cent) confirmed that what they value most in their plan is the day-to-day coverage afforded to themselves and their families.

While it may be tempting for employers to cut health benefits spending in these uncertain economic times, companies must balance current pressures with the short-term and long-term need for organizational performance and employee productivity, if they are to weather the storm. Even if some companies must cut staff to survive, they must also look after those who remain. Employees need peace of mind, and the survey demonstrates health benefits provide an important level of security.

If you have any questions, please contact Michael Thomas at the address below. W. Michael Thomas is a partner with The Investment Guild, an endorsed provider of the HortProtect Group Insurance Program, and is a director of Ontario Horticultural Trades Foundation.

The Investment Guild,
HortProtect Insurance
11 Allstate Parkway, Suite 100
Markham, ON  L3R 9T8