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Employee benefits plans don’t reflect current health challenges: study

A new study of health benefits usage reveals people are increasingly using paramedical services, such as massage therapy, chiropractic and orthotics, and beginning at a younger age.


April 14, 2015
By Massage Therapy Canada staff

A year-long study of health benefits usage by Green Shield Canada
clients showed users spent approximately $144 million on prescription
eye glasses, orthotic shoes, and chiropractic and massage serves last
year.

“For the first time in the health benefits industry, data
from the comprehensive study includes prescription drugs, eyewear and
paramedical services, and it shows how benefits programs are being used
and that the dollars spent do not align with the predominant health
challenges facing Canadians,” according to a Green Shield Canada press
release.

It said out of the $144 million Green Shield clients
spent on paramedical services, only $100,000, or under one per cent, was
spent on dietitians and nutritionists. “This despite studies showing
type-2 diabetes has doubled in Canada since the year 2000 and eating
habits are a significant contributor to the disease,” the company said.

The
benefits provider also cited as “most surprising” the rapid increase of
paramedical services at younger and younger ages, including
chiropractic care for infants and massages for teenagers. The highest
expenditure of any service was for massage which starts in the 20s age
range and continues well through the 50s.

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“This trend is seen at
a time when chronic disease such as hypertension, high cholesterol and
diabetes increasingly dominate employee populations and drive
significant costs to the health care system,” the company said on its
statement.

However, the benefits of massage therapy in managing
pre-hypertension, particularly among women, have been shown in previous
research. A study published in May 2013 in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine
found massage therapy was a safe, effective and cost-effective
intervention in controlling blood pressure of pre-hypertension women.

Green
Shield Canada is not advocating for discontinuing coverage for
paramedicals, but suggests there is a risk that they are increasing at
the expense of other critically important health strategies and
treatments.

“The plans and the spending habits of Canadian
employees and their families are growing apart from the largest health
challenges that face them. What employees and their dependents like and
want versus what they may need must be balanced better for the future,”
says David Willows, vice-president, strategic market solutions, Green
Shield Canada. “The industry and employers need to re-orient how we look
at benefits plans given the reality of how they are being perceived and
used.”

Escalating drug costs are also a major concern for the
future, according to Green Shield. During the study period, the
predominant debate was about the ability of Canadian employers to afford
escalating benefits costs to cover expensive drugs for conditions such
as rheumatoid arthritis and hepatitis C.

“Yes, these drugs cost a
lot, and, while our industry is united in the belief that Canadian
employers and individual consumers pay unnecessarily high prices, what
cannot be denied is the positive impact they can have on employees,”
said Willows. “A drug that can cure hepatitis C or move someone with
rheumatoid arthritis from a bed back to work is a sound investment for
an employer.”

“This study clearly shows that there must be a real
discussion about the traditional employee benefits plan,” adds Willows.
“We know people like getting their glasses and massages paid for, but
demands for expensive but highly effective drugs and chronic health care
are increasing rapidly.

There must be a real discussion about
employee benefits plans and how they are increasingly out of synch with
the reality of our health management needs today and into the future.”


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