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HUB International 2021 Outlook

Employee Benefits

 

Transforming Uncertainty into Opportunity

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Building a Better Benefits Experience

Work-from-home mandates have forced employers to re-imagine the ways they support and connect with employees. To stay competitive, organizations need to offer a broader array of virtual benefit services while managing costs.

The global pandemic has turned the working world on its head. So, too, the work-from-home paradigm has introduced different ways of thinking about employee benefits.

Now more than ever before, employees are looking for virtual services across the board, from HR enrolment to virtual medicine and even financial education.

In 2021, employees will be looking for virtual services across the board, from HR enrolment to virtual medicine and even financial education. They’re also looking for organizations that can support them and their needs through the pandemic. And organizations, for their part, are continuing to work toward sustainable plans that won’t break the bank. This will lead to a balancing act that each organization will need to achieve.

Here’s what you can expect to see in employee benefits in 2021:

“COVID has amplified the need for better technology to improve administrative efficiency and enhance access to health services – and employers will need to respond.”

1. HRIS systems continue to grow.

Not only do HR Information Systems offer cost savings, but they also promote accuracy and efficiency. In fact, up to one quarter of employees had inconsistencies in their enrolment data, according to compliance audits. That data includes names and addresses, as well as other member information that should be free from errors. HR systems that communicate seamlessly between departments, from benefits enrolment to administration, are proving essential.

Now, many organizations are looking for an agnostic HRIS system that can work with the other programs they already have in place. A streamlined system is invaluable for helping organizations simplify their renewals and even push for virtual enrolment, especially during periods of work-from-home. For example, employees working in makeshift home offices may not have printers to generate a physical copy to sign and mail back. But they do have WiFi. Offering a better, entirely virtual enrolment or renewal experience actually helps employers come out ahead.

Offering a better, entirely virtual enrolment or renewal experience actually helps employers come out ahead.

“With analytics tools, employers can obtain a deeper, more insightful view of the demographics of their organizations and develop flex plans that are customized to meet their employee needs.”

2. Organizations are employing analytics to better understand and serve the needs of their employees.

It is no longer enough to offer paramedical and dental coverage alone. Today’s employees are looking for more holistic support to ease the stress in their lives. During the early part of the pandemic, that meant assistance with childcare and elder care. It also meant mental health coverage, available digitally and on demand. And with no end of the pandemic in sight, financial stress is another challenge and organizations are looking at ways to provide resources for their employees.

In addition, a forward-thinking approach to a more personalized benefits plan will be a big differentiator for many organizations. No longer do organizations have to rely on broad data. With analytics tools, employers can obtain a deeper, more insightful view of the demographics of their organizations and develop flex plans that are customized to meet their employee needs, while saving money at the same time. Above all, creating an employee benefits strategy that reflects your organization’s vision and values may be one of the best ways organizations can support their employees.

“There has been greater adoption of virtual services in the last six months than there has been over the last ten years. ”

3. Physical distancing has led to an explosion of virtual medicine options.

Telemedicine used to focus on primary care, but it has grown broadly. In fact, there has been greater adoption of virtual services in the last six months than there has been over the last ten years. Providers – from basic sick visits to paramedical services and even online pharmacy – are offering a wider variety of services to respond to member needs in real time.

As patients become more comfortable with virtual services, an even greater variety of options will be offered online. In particular, mental health services are experiencing rapid growth, with an increasing array of mental health services available on-demand. While the growth of virtual services is a positive overall, often the insurers are choosing which services to include, without input from plan sponsors. However, many plan sponsors need more control over the price point and don’t want the options to be dictated by the insurance companies. Brokers can assist plan sponsors by using the data to determine which services they need and finding appropriate coverage for their clients.

“Canadians will be carefully examining benefits to support them getting well and staying well.”

4. Attention has shifted to a prevention mindset.

Like never before, Canadians today are focused on getting well and staying well. They will be carefully examining benefits to support them in achieving that. For example, employers that add a virtual physical fitness platform to their benefits offering will differentiate themselves, especially to the 50% of employees who are considered Millennials. With a platform that offers everything from individual and group fitness classes, challenges and coaches, gamification and recognition, the lack of gym access or affordability will be less of a concern, allowing for physical fitness maintenance and energy increase. A fitness routine is a critical link to strong mental health and resiliency, which is often overlooked, but can be very costly.

As work-from-home continues into 2021 and beyond, another crucial priority will be preventing musculoskeletal injuries from becoming chronic problems and driving up paramedical costs for massage, chiropractic and physiotherapy. Ensuring proper ergonomic home office set-up and guidance for employees is an important piece of the benefits plan, which – if ignored – will see an explosion of costs for years to come. This is particularly helpful during these times, as employees are often working at home in suboptimal environments that can be modified to reduce risk of injury.

2021 Cannabis Outlook

Organizations seeking to include cannabis in their benefits coverage should use this time to learn more about the industry.

Learn more

“As Boomers retire and more positions are filled with Millennials, the financial needs of the employees change.”

5. The demand for financial literacy and wellness is growing – and the financial questions are changing.

Canadians are stressed about their finances even during the best of times. With businesses failing, people losing jobs and retirees feeling financially insecure, stress levels are even higher. One way to support these employees is to offer classes on financial literacy tailored to each generations’ specific needs.

In addition, as Boomers retire and more positions are filled with Millennials, the financial needs of the employees change. No longer is the emphasis on retirement; instead, the questions will centre around repaying student loans or saving money for a home. As employee questions tend to multiply during a time of uncertainty, they will favour best-in-class advisors who can answer their questions and provide tangible support for them and their families.

6. The ever-changing pharmacy landscape continues to approve new specialty drugs.

The pharmaceutical pipeline is filled with expensive drugs, the kind that cost upward of $10,000 per year. Managing the cost of these drugs is critical to maintaining a sustainable drug plan. As the federal government begins to push toward national pharmacare, there will be more questions about the role of private insurance companies across Canada.

Although pharmacare is likely to take some time, advisors and sponsors seeking to navigate the specialty drug landscape will require up-to-date information on these new drugs, as questions arise in real time. Access to up-to-date information on new drugs, their benefits, risks and costs, among other things, will be essential for plan sponsors to manage costs and navigate other drug-related considerations.

 

“It is likely that we are approaching a crucial threshold – at which cannabis will likely receive a drug identification number (DIN).”

7. Cannabis may soon receive a drug identification number (DIN).

Since the legalization of cannabis two years ago, there has been a push for increased research and clinical trials demonstrating the efficacy of cannabis. It has long been known that marijuana has a positive impact on a variety of medical issues, but now there is increasing pressure to tighten regulations and standards in order to reach accepted dosing requirements and standardize them for medical purposes. It is likely that we are approaching a crucial threshold – at which cannabis will likely receive a drug identification number (DIN).

Currently, organizations seeking to provide cannabis coverage have found creative ways to provide this benefit, such as including it as a possible coverage in a flex plan. But awarding cannabis a DIN allows it to be treated as a drug like any other drug, which significantly lowers the cost to the plan member. This will lead to other questions about drug-free workplace policies and the rights of employees to use cannabis while at work, among other topics. Advisors and plan sponsors will be looking for information and guidance on the best ways to handle cannabis coverage in a drug plan. They should use this time to prepare – before the biggest change to drug benefits in decades comes into effect.

Success in 2021 and beyond

In the employee benefits space, the pandemic has brought many changes and improvements to organizations across Canada. COVID has amplified the need for better technology to improve administrative efficiency and enhance access to health services – and employers will need to respond.

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