Employees expect employer support when facing chronic illness: survey

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Over half of Canadian employees (55%) struggle with chronic illness or injury and place a greater burden on the Canadian healthcare system. As this issue becomes prevalent, Canadians are looking to their employers for assistance in navigating the bureaucratic maze between the private and public healthcare systems.

According to the 16th annual edition of The Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey, nearly two-thirds (61%) of employees who have yet to experience the system expect their plan sponsor to provide a high level of support.

Regionally, two-thirds (66%) of Atlantic Canadians share this view, followed by those in Manitoba/Saskatchewan and Quebec (63% each). Fewer Ontarians and Albertans (60%) hold a similar stance, with British Columbians (54%) being least likely to expect this high level of assistance. By contrast, less than half (47%) of respondents who have had to navigate between the public and private systems received good assistance from their employer, with Albertans receiving support in only one-third (33%) of the cases.

“Currently there’s a wide grey area in terms of what is being covered by the various healthcare providers, and employees are not so sure where to turn for guidance,” says John McGrath from Great-West Life Assurance Company and one of the survey’s advisory board members. “These findings should act as a wake-up call for a better collaboration between stakeholders, as a significant portion of plan members who are affected by chronic illness or injury could be losing time and productivity because they don’t know where to turn for services and coverage.”

According to the survey, both plan members (81%) and employers (90%) acknowledge the importance of workplace-based health promotion programs to maintain the sustainability of the public healthcare system over the long-term.

As such, provision of public programs in the workplace could be part of the solution to disease prevention and the management of chronic illness. Three-quarters (74%) of employees indicate they would like their workplaces to allow public health programs such as flu shot clinics, disease screenings or health risk assessments to be available on-site during work hours. As well, close to nine in 10 (88%) report that if there were on-site screening for a condition they were personally concerned with, they would be likely to participate.

“In the past there was reluctance among plan members to have their employer too involved in their health,” says Marilee Mark from Sun Life Financial and an advisory board member. “However, this stance is changing as employees demonstrate greater openness and even an expectation for plan sponsors to be more involved in providing health services beyond the traditional benefits. Fortunately, this point of view is also shared by employers, given the supporting conditions provided. Acting upon this alignment can streamline healthcare delivery and alleviate some of the budgetary and operational constraints our healthcare system faces.”

Plan sponsors are increasingly open to public and disease prevention programs in the workplace. Nine in 10 (91%) say they would implement immunization clinics if supported by tax incentives, while a similar number indicate they would offer workplace-based health risk screening (87%) and chronic disease prevention programs (88%) pending increased government or public health support.

The Right Metrics

Key to determining the right programs and better coordination between private and public systems are the right metrics. The Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey points to absenteeism as one of those metrics.

More than half (52%) of plan sponsors formally track absenteeism, a 14-point increase from the previous year. Additionally, seven in 10 plan sponsors acknowledge they work with their insurance carrier or benefits consultant to analyze the drivers of absenteeism in their companies, albeit too many (44%) do not act upon the information.

Pierre Marion from Medavie Blue Cross and an advisory board member adds, “Plan sponsors are becoming more aware of the prevalence of chronic disease and the potential impact it has on their employees and the business. Yet, it is also clear that when it comes to better understanding absenteeism, there is still room for improvement and a need to develop targeted programs that engage employees and reduce absences. This will benefit the individual employee, Canadian businesses and the healthcare system.”

The Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey is available for download at www.sanofi.ca.

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