GroupNews – October 2022
Eckler’s GroupNews monthly newsletter provides commentary on the issues affecting Canadian group benefit plans.
In this edition:
- New Brunswick amends prescription co-pay and premiums under New Brunswick Drug Plan
- Alberta to provide better access to diagnostic imaging
- Employment Insurance premium rate announcement for 2023
- Expanded role for pharmacists in British Columbia
- Highlights of the 2022 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey
New Brunswick amends prescription co-pay and premiums under New Brunswick Drug Plan
The government of New Brunswick has introduced Regulation 2022-67 under the Prescription and Catastrophic Drug Insurance Act (Act) amending the premiums and maximum co-payments residents will pay under the New Brunswick Drug Plan (Plan) as of
November 1, 2022.
Changes to the Plan include adjustments to gross income levels, premiums and co-payments to reflect changes in inflation, drug costs, earnings and cost of living expenses. The amendments also increase the number of income ranges from 6 to 21. The additional income ranges and premium levels are intended to provide a more gradual change when premiums increase, and to eliminate large increases in premium payments in relation to a small increase in earnings.
The lowest premium will be reduced from $200 a year to $66 per year. Residents who qualify may be eligible to have their new premium phased in. The changes do not affect the New Brunswick Prescription Drug Program, which provides prescription drug benefits to eligible seniors, nursing home residents, and residents with specific prescription needs such as patients with cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDS.
Impact: The changes are intended to ensure a balance between affordability for eligible residents and cost to the government. The government hopes the changes will ensure the Plan is sustainable and affordable and provides benefits coverage for the drugs residents need.
Alberta to provide better access to diagnostic imaging
The government of Alberta has announced changes that will provide better access to publicly funded diagnostic imaging for patients. Changes are being introduced that will allow chiropractors, physiotherapists and audiologists in the province to refer patients for medically required diagnostic imaging services that will be insured under the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan.
Under the current system, patients must receive a referral for diagnostic imaging services from a physician. The change will apply to specified diagnostic imaging services including x-rays, ultrasounds and fluoroscopies, and will not include services such as CT scans or MRIs at this time.
Alberta Health has announced it will provide an update when changes to the current billing system allow for the new referrals.
Impact: The government hopes that the changes will make it easier for patients to access insured diagnostic imaging services, which should reduce wait times, and lead to less time off work.
Employment Insurance premium rate announcement for 2023
Following the release of the Actuarial Report on the Employment Insurance (EI) Premium Rate (Report), which forecasts the annual premium based on the seven-year break-even rate, the Canadian government has provided notice that the premium rate for 2023 will be $1.63 per $100 of insurable earnings for employees, which reflects the limit to the annual variation in the premium rate of
$.05. The EI premium rate in 2022 is $1.58 per $100. EI premium rates for Quebec residents (who are covered under the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan) will be $1.27 per $100 of insurable earnings for employees and $1.78 per $100 of insurable earnings for employers, which is a decrease from $1.20 and $1.68 respectively.
Maximum insurable earnings for 2023 will increase to $61,500 from $60,300 in 2021.
Impact: This is the second year in a row with a decrease in the break-even rate and a lower-than-expected premium increase. The decrease is generally attributed to temporary measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as reductions in projected regular benefits paid due to lower-than-expected unemployment rates and may indicate that recent strains to the EI system are easing.
Expanded role for pharmacists in British Columbia
To help alleviate the strain and optimize the healthcare system in the province, on September 29, 2022, British Columbia announced a strategy that includes expanded responsibilities for pharmacists.
Beginning October 14, 2022, pharmacists in BC are permitted to administer a wider range of drugs by injection or intranasal and to adapt existing prescriptions for a wider range of drugs and conditions.
The Ministry also committed to work with the College of Pharmacists of BC to develop regulations that once in place will enable pharmacists to prescribe medications for minor ailments, such as psoriasis, acne, reflux disease and allergic rhinitis, as well as for contraception. The province is also working toward extending the expiry date for all prescriptions from one year to up to two years.
Impact: Expanding the range of services available by pharmacists will help to increase access to medications and improve patient health outcomes.
Highlights of the 2022 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey
The 2022 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey, previously the Sanofi Healthcare Survey, asked 1,000 plan members and more than 550 plan sponsors in Canada about their opinions and preferences for their health benefit plans and their personal health.
Survey highlights include:
- While the overall health of employees improved this year with one in 10 reporting being in poor or very poor health compared to 13% of employees in last year’s survey, one in five (or 22%) Canadians with a workplace health benefit plan describe their personal mental health over the last year as being poor. This response was most prevalent among plan members between the ages of 35 to 44 with 28% reporting poor mental health and females at 27%.
- While three-quarters of respondents report that their employer supports a mentally well workplace, only 61% believe their employer is effective in helping them manage and deal with stress. Only half (49%) feel their employer is effective helping them deal with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.
- The prevalence of chronic conditions continues to be underestimated by plan sponsors in the workforce. While 67% of employees reported having a chronic condition and/or chronic pain, plan sponsors estimate chronic conditions exist among only 34% of their work force.
Group benefit plans
- This year’s survey highlighted a positive view of health benefit plans with 54% (up from 47% in 2021) of plan members describing the quality of their health benefits plan as excellent or very good, and just 5% of plan members describing their plan as poor, compared to 10% in 2021.
- Members with group benefits that include virtual healthcare (92%) were more likely to describe the quality of their health benefit plan as excellent or good compared to those without (69%).
- Two-thirds of members (66%) indicated they would likely use a 24-hour virtual healthcare service that’s part of their benefit plan, increasing to 81% among those who have already used a form of virtual care.
- Healthcare spending accounts (HCSAs) and wellness accounts are rated very highly by plan members with 94% of members and 93% of sponsors agreeing that HCSAs are an important part of their benefits plan. Among plan members without these accounts, 87% would like to have an HCSA and 89% would like to have a wellness account.
- When provided with a list of lesser-known benefits, plan members were most likely to indicate they or family members would take advantage of health risk screenings with a healthcare professional to determine personal risks for certain diseases, such as diabetes (32%).
- There is significant interest in benefits to support diversity, equity and inclusion, such as gender affirmation and fertility treatments among plan sponsors who don’t already offer these benefits.
Impact: The survey serves as a useful tool to encourage discussion and provide guidance to stakeholders on decisions to be made about the future of benefit plans.
This publication has been prepared by the GroupNews editorial board for general information and does not constitute professional advice. The information contained herein is based on currently available sources and analysis. The data used may be from third-party sources that Eckler has not independently verified, validated, or audited. They make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy of the information, nor whether it is suitable for the purposes to which it is put by users. The information is not intended to be taken as advice with respect to any individual situation and cannot be relied upon as such. Current editorial board members are: Charlene Milton, Philippe Laplante, and Nick Gubbay.