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The coronavirus pandemic is the most significant socio-economic health crisis since WWII, and maybe even longer. Almost every aspect of modern-day life has been affected in one way or another, and employee benefit plan programs are no exception. The goal of employers, before the pandemic became a full-on pandemic in Canada, was to provide those diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus with adequate short-term disability benefits and emergency medical coverage, if they had to travel outside the country for any reason. This pandemic moved swiftly, and a few short weeks later, many businesses were forced to close their doors to the public and the employers’ attention has now shifted to maintaining benefits for employees with reduced work hours, and extending benefits to employees who are temporarily laid off. This is a big change in the priority of benefits, as well as the number of people receiving them. This is one of the main, and most obvious impacts of the pandemic thus far, the increase of short-term disability and life claims, as well as temporary reductions in claims for dental, vision care, and paramedical services. It is still too early to forecast how long the global pandemic will last and what impact it will have on the world, as well as on employee benefits, but here are five predictions for the remainder of 2020.
Many people have lost, or will lose, their jobs and their benefit coverage. If the employee’s spouse has been terminated and no longer has benefits, their health and dental claims will automatically come from their spouse’s plan from the first dollar owed. Additionally, if the spouse’s plan was the first payer for their dependant children’s claims, the other plan will have to start picking up these claims as well. It’s sort of like squeezing a balloon from the bottom, or like a funnel, as the workforce shrinks even more and businesses temporarily close, the number of individuals claiming under the remaining plans will increase, resulting in higher per-employee costs.
Once social distancing restrictions have eased all over, employers should expect to see claims spike upward, even though claims for dental, vision care, and most paramedical services have reduced recently. Since places like dentists and optometrists have been closed, nobody has been able to go and get these appointments finished, so expect an uptick in the demand eventually.
More health care providers have gone virtual over the past few years, both online and on cell phones. Around about 3 years ago, several telemedicine providers came onto the scene, making it easier for Canadian’s to seek treatment and advice from primary care physicians and nurse practitioners about all kinds of medical issues from the comfort of their home or their office. Other health care providers such as psychologists and naturopaths also have virtual appointments. Because of social distancing methods, as well as the closure of a lot of places, many employees might feel safer accessing this type of medical care, instead of visiting a walk in for example. Some employers are slow to embrace virtual health care, but this pandemic will surely help increase the value of these services.
With the pandemic happening, an uptick in the conversations about mental health and its impact. Even those that weren’t infected with COVID-19 have been impacted by mental health issues to varying degrees. While we are all dealing with uncertainty, fear, and social isolation, the number of Canadians also dealing with the loss of a loved one, financial stress, sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression, and burnout has never been greater. The demand for mental health support now, and in the future, will likely be greater than the already struggling systems can handle. Internet based programs including CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) can help to bridge that gap. Similar to virtual health, employers are slow to embrace this type of health care as well.
Recovery of COVID patients is very unknown, nobody really knows what the long-term health prognosis will be, especially for those with underlying medical conditions. Recovery could take months or longer, which could lead to higher long-term disability claims. Workloads for many employees in essential industries have increased as well, which can lead to burn out and other health conditions. Prolonged periods of stress are likely to result in increased long-term disability claims once the peak subsides.
While every day we see glimmers of hope on the horizon, our world and sense of normality and security has been changed forever. Employers may want to use this as an opportunity to take stock of their benefits programs to determine what plans are working, and what isn’t. If you need help with this, contact Core Benefits in Regina today, or check out the website here.