Choose flexible benefits programs

In order to adapt the plans, it is necessary to understand the expectations of the employees. (Photo: 123RF)

INSURANCE AND PENSION. Uniform group insurance and group annuity plans have been losing popularity for several years in favor of more personalized and flexible programs. Employers have several options to follow this trend.

There are generally quite large differences in age and family and financial situation between workers in a company. Therefore, not everyone runs the same risks and does not feel the same anxiety. Recent research from RBC and Manulife shows, for example, that young people have high expectations of mental health services, while women and low incomes experience more financial stress.

“Many group plans are still based on general needs, but that’s no longer enough because employees want plans that take into account their specific needs,” says Melissa Boisvert, market development consultant at Accès Liberté, a division of Canada Life that launched approx. a year ago. In particular, this service offers meetings with health and wealth management consultants to develop a personal plan, both in terms of well-being and financial security.

Choose the correct formula

In response to workers’ new expectations, employers are increasingly tempted by more flexible benefits programs. “It’s become quite common, both for insurance and group annuities,” admits Patrice Latour, regional vice president of sales, group insurance and savings solutions at IA Financial Group. The options chosen depend not only on the intentions of the program sponsor and the wishes of the employees, but also on the costs associated with the plans.

Traditionally, the employer himself decided which guarantees were offered or not to the members of the group insurance schemes. Rather, the flexible plan mandates that the employer offer a broader list of guarantees that workers can draw upon. The benefit is to reduce the risk of paying for services and care that employees do not consider useful to them.

“It’s important to offer some degree of flexibility, but the trap is thinking that the flexible plan is always appropriate when other options may be more suitable,” notes Patrice Latour. He advises employers to first survey their employees to find out their expectations for flexibility. Armed with this information, they can consider different options that go beyond the à la carte diet.

According to Patrice Latour, for example, health and wellness management accounts and physical activity accounts can be added to a group insurance program. The employer pays a certain amount and the employee can claim reimbursement for health services or expenses not covered by group insurance from a list. In some cases, the unused balance can be carried over to the following year. “It’s a different way to add flexibility to the plan without having to manage a fully flexible plan,” explains Patrice Latour.

Employers can also offer a basic plan with optional options or even modular plans where coverage groups can be assembled to match employee demographics. Flexibility therefore does not necessarily require a “buffet” type plan where basic protection is not offered and where each employee constructs their coverage.

Don’t miss the target

In order to adapt the plans, however, it is necessary to understand the expectations of the employees. “Each member may have different preferences depending on their background and situation,” Melissa Boisvert recalls. The insurance companies offer a wide range of options to meet their wishes, but it is very important for employers to know the specific needs of members in order to make the right choices. »

The Benefits Canada 2021 Healthcare Survey shows a significant gap between the services members would use if added to their health insurance plan and those their employers want to cover. For example, the services of a personal trainer are the second most desired item by participants, but they do not appear on the list of ten benefits that promoters like to offer. Conversely, navigating the health care system, which 19% of employers want to cover, is not among the ten benefits that workers most expect.

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The five most important group benefits according to employees:

Dental: 81.9%

Eye exams: 81.8%

Frames and contact lenses: 80.4%

Retirement savings programs: 73%

Source: Seeking Support: The Future of Employee Health, a study by the Conference Board of Canada and Telus Health

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