We now all know that COVID-19 is here to stay with us for a while. Along with that, health and regulatory changes due to the pandemic are likely to continue impacting employee benefits in Saskatchewan in 2021 and beyond. What could businesses be seeing this year when it comes to employee benefit plans? Let’s take a look at some of the issues that are having a major impact on benefit plans.
Prescription Drug Trends
The increased use of medication for mental health issues such as depression and anxiety was already on the rise well before lockdowns happened. The pandemic made the situation worse with even more people reporting mental health struggles. As a result, employers are seeing an increasing number of anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication claims.
At the same time, there are no signs of slow down on the specialty drug front. Specialty drugs are high cost drugs including biologics with price tags in the thousands of dollars per year. These medications treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, skin disorders and certain respiratory conditions. Although only few people claim them, specialty drugs account for close to 80% of overall drug costs. Businesses in Saskatchewan are seeing increased utilization of specialty drugs combined with an increased cost per claim. The good news is that lower cost biosimilars are slowly but surely getting more traction. Employers should consider incorporating biosimilars into their benefit programs. Moreover, some carriers have already implemented biosimilar substitutions into their drug plans.
Lastly, the pandemic reminded us of the importance of immunizations. For example, people were encouraged to take their flu shots in 2020 to help ease the burden on our healthcare system. With the COVID-19 vaccine roll out underway, the increased awareness of vaccines in general is everywhere. As such, employers should review the extent of vaccine coverage in their benefit plans. Different carriers offer different vaccination coverage. Moreover, same carrier can have multiple vaccine coverage options available to choose from. For example, there are carriers out there who pay for all preventive vaccines. Other carriers require a doctor prescription. And, some employee benefit plans in Saskatchewan offer no vaccination coverage at all.
Working From Home
Employes have transitioned their staff to work remotely whenever possible. While many people enjoy the benefits of working from the comfort of their home, it is a big change that some of us are still adjusting to. Most Employee Assistance Programs have now added specialized resources and support for employees who are working from home. These resources include tips on setting up a home office, managing time, work-life balance, stress and many other issues that workers are struggling with.
There is no question that the pandemic accelerated the adoption of virtual healthcare. It is becoming a standard practice for family doctors to offer a telephone or a video appointment first, and only see the patient in person if absolutely necessary. When it comes to employee benefit programs in Saskatchewan, almost all carriers now have some sort of virtual healthcare coverage in place including virtual platforms to support mental health.
Cost Of Dental Going Up
Dental fee guide increases in 2021 are expected to be higher than usual across Canadian provinces. Normally, we would see fee guides increase by about 2-3% year over year. This year, we could be seeing an increase as much as 4-6%. Dentists are charging higher prices because of increased costs of doing business due to enhanced sanitation protocols, the need to install plexiglass barriers, increased usage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and seeing less patients overall. Many dentists also include extra fees for the cost of PPE on their invoices. Our recent blog has more information on medical & dental visits during the pandemic and how that impacts employee benefit plans.
Benefits Plan Review
These are only some of the issues to think about when it comes to benefit plans in 2021. Though the pandemic created many hardships for people and businesses everywhere, there has also been incredible growth in technology. That, combined with regulatory and health dynamics, has impacted employee benefit plans for employers of all sizes. 2021 would be an excellent year to take a good look at your company’s employee benefits to ensure you are addressing the challenges as well as taking advantage of new opportunities. Here is to a better year ahead!