Weathering the Storm: Adjusting Your Employee Benefits Plan During a Crisis

Published: Mar 24 | 2020
Modified: May 26 | 2020

In recent weeks, Canada and the rest of the world have been forced to adapt in new ways to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Businesses and stores are closing temporarily, consumers are encouraged to stay at home and practice social and physical distancing, and many Canadians have transitioned to working from home entirely.

At Benefits by Design (BBD) Inc., we know the value an employee benefits plan brings – both to a business and to its individual employees, particularly in times of a worldwide health pandemic. However, we also understand that these are extraordinary circumstances, and we want to take this opportunity to highlight some creative solutions for business owners to maintain important benefits coverage through this time of crisis while potentially reducing the costs to their business. 

Here are a few options to consider:

Plan Design Amendments

The first thing to consider is amendments to the plan design. Your Insurer can work with you and your Advisor to make cost-savings adjustments, while still maintaining crucial coverage, such as Extended Health Care (EHC), Life Insurance, or an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Here are some suggestions:

Restructuring Your Benefits

It may be possible to restructure your benefits plan to maintain crucial coverage while reducing or possibly removing other coverage you may not be prioritizing at the moment. Your Advisor will be an excellent resource in which to begin these discussions and will be able to provide additional options for restructuring specific to your individual plan.

One thing to consider as you go through this exercise is the importance of mental health services. In these uncertain times, employees’ mental health will be very important as they struggle to adapt to changing circumstances, economic instability, and the anxiety that comes with a global pandemic. When restructuring your benefits, it’s worth taking a close look at your mental health resources and whether you feel you have the right coverage in place. Consider adding resources like an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to your benefits package if your plan does not already have one (more on those below).

Health Care Spending Account (HCSA)

A Health Care Spending Account (HCSA) allows employers to contain the costs of eligible health expenses by defining a specific dollar amount per employee to use on these expenses.

As we noted above, many paramedical practitioners will be closed and employees unable to use their services. However, HCSAs also include options for mental health services, and employers can create a specific plan design through a Standalone® HCSA to allow for only those services to be eligible.

Switch to Benaccount®

Benaccount is a lower-cost, high deductible solution that covers catastrophic expenses that might otherwise leave employees financially at risk. It focuses on protecting them from costly, unexpected expenses and less on ancillary insurance, such as dental, massage, or chiropractors. Benaccount is also paired with an HCSA to provide employees with some flexibility and choice.

Due to the nature of the coverage, Benaccount premiums are lower in cost than most other fully insured benefits plans and focus on the most crucial coverages.

Temporary Employee Layoffs

We know this isn’t an easy thing to do, but it may be necessary in some cases. It should be noted that employees’ benefits coverage can continue during a layoff, provided employees continue to pay their portion of the premiums, if applicable.

If this is something you’re considering, we recommend speaking to an employment lawyer to help you through the process.

Embrace Telemedicine and Telehealth

We alluded to this earlier, but in a time of a worldwide pandemic, employees are less inclined to visit in-person clinics, and in fact, with social and physical distancing as a guideline, shouldn’t be going to those places anyway.

Telemedicine (sometimes known as telehealth or vice versa, although they mean slightly different things) is a technology that allows the remote delivery of healthcare services. There are options for doctors, where you can speak with a real practitioner and get prescriptions, mental health services, and more. 

These technologies allow employees to remain safe at home while still getting the healthcare and support they need to get through these uncertain times. You can learn more about Canada’s telehealth resources by Province from our interactive map!

Add (or Keep) an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP)

These are unprecedented times for everyone and experts are already warning of the mental health impacts of extended isolation and the unprecedented changes to everyday life that COVID-19 is already having.

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offers help and support to employees through difficult times in their lives, which for many Canadians, is right now. Mental health support is available through professional counselling, and for any employees struggling to adapt to these new circumstances, an EAP is one tool employers have available to help employees cope.

Preferred Pharmacy Arrangements

Full disclosure – these preferred pharmacy arrangements are applicable only to employers with plans through Benefits by Design (BBD) Inc., however, other Insurers may have similar arrangements, so it’s worth looking into!

BBD has preferred pharmacy arrangements with Costco Pharmacy and Alliance Pharmacy, allowing plan members to receive $5.00 off their prescription*. Additionally, both services can deliver your prescriptions right to your door, saving you a trip out of the house.

*Applicable when you have a co-insurance or a per prescription deductible and is discounted at the time of claim automatically by Green Shield Canada (GSC).

Consider Individual Insurance

If you find yourself without a group benefits plan, employees can pursue individual health insurance solutions such as Green Shield Canada (GSC)’s Health Assist. There are a variety of plan design options for employees to choose from, and employers looking to help out can offer to pay the premiums for employees.

Downloadable Infographic: Adjusting a Benefits Plan During a Crisis

There’s a lot to consider as Canada, and indeed, the rest of the world adjusts to the ‘new normal’ of the foreseeable future under COVID-19. People and businesses of every kind will need to make adjustments and work together to do everything we can to limit the spread and help keep healthcare systems from being overwhelmed.Employers of every size will need to make some tough decisions as it relates to their employee benefits plan. Can they afford to keep one? What happens to their employees if they lose coverage? What happens with their coverage if an employee is laid off?

We’ve created a helpful infographic that takes you through a situation that is all-too-common these days: a temporary business closure and the creative adjustments and solutions to maintain a benefits plan while simultaneously reducing cost.

Download the infographic and see how Jane, a yoga studio owner, adjusts her plan to keep coverage and reduce costs!