Benefits company in Alberta sees a surge in demand

It may seem counterintuitive, but an economic downturn in Alberta is driving more business to benefits specialists

by Michael Mata

These are tough times for many Albertans. According to Statistics Canada, Alberta’s monthly unemployment rate rose to its highest level in nearly 22 years last month, making this the first time the province has had a worse unemployment rate than Nova Scotia.

Over the past two years, more than 100,000 Albertans have been laid off, which means a loss of employer-provided benefits. With the economic downturn and the resulting job losses, leading benefits providers like Alberta Blue Cross have witnessed a surge in the number of individuals seeking personal coverage, as well as the number of companies looking for ways to manage their costs.

“We are getting an increase in calls,” noted Sharmin Hislop, manager of corporate communications with Alberta Blue Cross. “It’s one of those times when people are trying to find ways to keep their coverage, but meet their financial reality.”

Employers who want to continue providing benefits to their employees are carefully assessing their budgets. “For some [employers], it’s a choice between paying salaries or providing benefits, which is tough,” noted Hislop.

Economic uncertainty also means that many Albertans have been making tough decisions about their health, with many choosing to postpone health procedures that aren’t urgent. Dental offices in areas particularly hard hit by layoffs are noticing a decrease in the number of patients seeking treatment.   

According to figures from the new Conference Board of Canada report, the province is likely to experience a recession more severe than was originally anticipated for the remainder of 2016, though post-wildfire reconstruction will likely spur a rebound in 2017.

A quarterly provincial outlook released in June 2016 notes that Alberta’s GDP is expected to drop by 2% this year, the result of the fallout from the Fort McMurray fire, as well as the decline in drilling and capital investment due to weak oil prices.