Canadian HR Reporter

November 2020 CAN

Canadian HR Reporter is the national journal of human resource management. It features the latest workplace news, HR best practices, employment law commentary and tools and tips for employers to get the most out of their workforce.

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2 N E W S "It's a great opportunity to take a step back and say, 'What do we need to actually support everybody?' Because this is not going away. Look at how bad the numbers are up in Ontario, right back in the triple digits all week. And I'm fearful of what's going to happen with [opening] public schools and colleges, universities. So, it's here to stay." Cost-cutting concerns Coming into the pandemic, employers were in an all-out war for talent in most industries, and there was record unemployment, so there was not a lot of time and attention focused on costs, says Matt Houghton, CEO of GroupHEALTH Benefit Solutions in Surrey, B.C. "[Now], people are trying to take that approach of 'How do we actually look at all of our costs and make sure that we're getting value? And if there are possible ways to reduce waste, then let's go ahead and quickly execute on that.'" A lot of employers are feeling the pinch of COVID-19 and figuring out how that is going to impact their employee benefit programs, says Noel MacKay, principal consultant at Cowan Insurance Group in London, Ont. "What are they going to keep in it? What are they going to add to it? What [are they] going to take out of it — relative to just the financial aspect of all of this — to stay afloat?... What is really important to have in the plan? Do I have it and how can I repurpose the spend I have now to get to where I want to go?" he says. "Will we see more repurposing of the employer's employee benefit plan some of the safety protocols that some of the treatment providers would have would put a strain on the volumes of patients they could see. We knew there was a bit of a backlog and people were anxious to get back to their regular routine," says Carbell. "We've actually seen our volumes come right back up to pre-COVID levels... and, in some cases, a little bit more." But gauging whether these trends will continue is another matter. "It's ever so sobering. I've never felt predicting has been so challenging," she says. "It's possible that as this levels out in the next few months, we'll have a different trend that we'll evaluate. And a lot of times, the conversations I've had with plan sponsors is to try to anticipate that." Not surprisingly, on the health and dental side, there was a real drop in activity among paramedical practitioners as all services, other than emergency ones, pretty much ended. But with the summer, that lull was over, and practitioners were back to 2019 levels, while dental was on the upswing, too, says MacKay. "The longer we're learning to work under the protocols for the paramed practitioners and the dentist, the volume issues will be fixed and we'll be back to where we were in the past." However, it's not yet clear how many of these services are being accessed in person or virtually, he says. "For example, you can do virtual physiotherapy. How much is that actually being used in claims relative to the old school way of getting physiotherapy services? We don't know." dollars? I think we will and I think it's overdue." Paramedical trends The events this year have really shone a light on protecting health more than ever before, putting prevention centre stage, says Donna Carbell, head of group benefits at Manulife in Toronto. "The pandemic has really created what I think is a new evolution to health and safety in the workplace… There really has been a real focus on maintaining the health of the employee population." When many businesses were shut down, Manulife provided plan sponsors with premium relief, she says. "Interestingly, as things were reopen- ing, we really weren't sure what to expect, because we weren't sure whether Virtual care continues to climb With the effects of the pandemic not going away any time soon, practitioners are thinking outside the box, says Gory, coming up with solutions that include virtual physiotherapy and even triage dental. "We've seen more change in the benefits space since COVID hit than we have in the last three years." The whole access to digital solutions has changed the offering, says Julie Duchesne, a partner and Mercer Marsh benefits leader for Mercer Canada in Montreal. "A lot of employers have implemented digital psychologists, digital mental health support and so forth… There's lots of solutions [such as] digital gyms, fitness apps… that you can access from anywhere at any time," she says. "I would think that this is going to become the norm because employees are used to that, and their lifestyle has changed... That's going to have a long- term impact on the benefits." Virtual care is to be table stakes, and it will likely become a cornerstone of a good benefit plan for people going for ward, says Houghton. And the pandemic has massively accelerated that trend. "We're seeing a lot of doctors that before may have been reluctant to participate in the virtual health-care models are finding that it allows them the flexibility to work from wherever they want and work the hours that they want." Plus, the costs for this type of service are continuing to come down as the volumes and adoption rates rise, he says. "Most employers can quickly look and say, 'Hey, if I have an employee that has to CANADIAN EMPLOYERS CONTINUE BENEFITS SUPPORT Source: Aon "It's a great opportunity to take a step back and say, 'What do we need to actually support everybody?' Because this is not going away." Chris Gory, Orchard Benefits 1 in 2 Number of employers that would continue benefits for workers, including those laid off 7 in 10 Number of employers that aren't making any changes to benefit cost sharing 1 in 5 Number of employers that are moving to 100-per-cent employer-paid benefits 1 in 3 Number of employers that say they did not make any adjust- ments to compensation Focus on benefits> pg. 1

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