Canadian employers misjudge the magnitude of chronic disease threat

A new report finds gaps in knowledge on chronic conditions and drug plan coverage, as well as shifting appetites for health benefits

Canadian employers misjudge the magnitude of chronic disease threat

Sanofi Canada has released the latest edition of the Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey, which shed light on threats that are underestimated by Canadian employers as well as changes in employees’ preferred menu of health benefits under their workplace plans.

“Providers of workplace health benefit plans can use these results to help drive new benefit offerings and wellness initiatives that focus on supporting plan members with chronic disease,” said Sanofi Canada President and CEO Michael Mullette. “The past few years have seen positive growth in supports for mental health, which can serve as a model for other major chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

Based on the survey, plan sponsors estimate that 39% of their workforce lives with a chronic condition. But 54% of plan members in the survey have reportedly been diagnosed with at least one chronic disease or condition; the number is higher (69%) among those aged 55 to 64. Focusing on chronic pain, the results found 67% of employees had a condition that can impact their productivity and result in repeated workplace absences.

While employers and workers are far apart in assessing the prevalence of chronic conditions, they were closer in terms of their desire to solve such problems. Eighty-seven per cent of employees with a chronic condition said they’d like to know more about their condition and how to treat it, while 82% of employers said they’d like their benefit plan to do more to support employees with such conditions.

Turning to respondents’ preferences for health benefits, the survey found that 74% of employees would agree to undergo pharmacogenetic testing to let physicians prescribe more effective medications for them; 65% of employers expressed interest in providing coverage for such services. Sixty-five per cent of employees said they were open to receiving health information based on their personal use of benefits, while 74% of employers would like the carrier of their benefit plan to send such targeted health messaging to employees.

There was also a rise in the number of employers who agreed that medical cannabis should be part of their workplace health plans, from 34% in 2018 to 45% this year. Employees had a stronger positive stance, with 64% thinking medical cannabis should be covered.

The survey also found a deficit in the understanding of drug plans among employees and employers, with both groups significantly underestimating the number of drugs covered in workplace drug plans while overestimating the number covered by provincial plans. There was also a lack of awareness on the possible national Pharmacare program, with 77% of employees and 52% of employers having low or no knowledge on the subject.

But in spite of their lack of awareness, both employees and employers expressed high levels of support (87% and 84%, respectively), for a Pharmacare regime that fills gaps in coverage for Canadians with inadequate or no insurance, and that does not affect workplace drug plans.