The Evolving Nature of Group Benefits

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) are becoming integral to every organization’s culture and many organizations are expanding their DE&I initiatives.

Until recently benefit plans were traditional in nature and typically changes were implemented to realign the plan with the company budget. Since the start of the pandemic there has been a renewed focus on ensuring benefit programs support the company mission, values and workplace culture. Many organizations want their benefit plans to demonstrate to employees and job candidates that they are a progressive open-minded company that is focused on the health and wellbeing of all employees.

Since the start of the pandemic, Baynes & White’s clients have been expanding their benefits programs to include Health Care Spending Accounts (HCSA), wellness accounts and virtual care. Coverage was also increased to support employee’s mental health needs and to ensure Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) were providing value to employees and their families. Benefit plans continue to evolve as plan sponsors express interest in non-traditional coverage to meet their DEI goals. In response, insurers are providing innovative products including gender affirming surgery coverage, fertility benefits and surrogacy benefits.

Gender Affirming Benefits
While provincial plans may cover gender reassignment surgery if the individual is eligible, cosmetic surgeries for gender transition may not be covered. Gender affirming products provide financial support to help employees and their dependents in their gender transition journey. The impact on the benefit cost by offering this coverage is expected to be modest due to the eligibility criteria, the target group and annual and lifetime maximums.  Until now it has generally been large employers who have provided this coverage however this is changing as more insurers provide these services.

Fertility Benefits
The cost of fertility treatment is high and with less than half of the provinces offering any or limited coverage, the out of pocket expense can be significant. The number of couples experiencing infertility has been increasing partially due to women waiting longer to have children.  In addition same sex couples and single parents may need to rely on fertility procedures in order to have children. Employers can include or exclude fertility coverage for drugs and procedures from their benefit plans, however including fertility benefits can prove to be very important in attracting and retaining employees who are at the stage of planning for a family.

Surrogacy Benefits
There has been an increase in the use of surrogates in the last decade. One insurer will be offering a surrogacy benefit later this year to assist in repaying the plan member’s expenses when they use a surrogate.

Employee surveys can be a valuable tool to assess how employees value their benefit plans. They can also educate employees on more innovative benefits. Surveys do set expectations and employers should be transparent as to the objective of the survey. Also, it may be timely to have a full review of the benefit plan done to ensure it supports your short and long term strategies.