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2019 Federal Budget- Employee Benefits Impacted

How will the new 2019 Federal Budget impact benefit plan sponsors, employees, and employers?

National Pharmacare Program

With the March 2019 Federal budget, progress is being made towards instituting a National Pharmacare Program. The move away from Provincial Pharmacare Programs involves projects to develop a National Drug Formulary and the creation of a Canada Drug Agency (CDA) plus a National Strategy for High-Cost Drugs and Rare Diseases.

Our publicly funded health care system is based on need and is the envy of many countries around the world. However, a National Pharmacare Program would cover the costs for expensive drugs necessary to help Canadians with certain rare diseases.

Protect Employees & Pensions from Employer Insolvency

The new Federal budget is also looking into how to improve creditor protection for plan members should an employer declare bankruptcy. The goal is to improve the fairness and transparency of the insolvency proceedings and make them more accessible for plan members.

Canadian Training Benefit

As of 2020, if you are an employee between the ages of 25 and 64 and with an income of less than $150,000, you may be eligible for the Canadian Training Benefit. This EI Training Support Benefit provides an automatic credit of $250 per year (with a $5000 lifetime limit). The benefit can be used for up to 4 weeks of leave or towards training fees for college, university, or any other eligible institution. You must have 600 insurable hours to qualify.


For more information about the 2019 Federal Budget in Canada, visit the Government of Canada page entitled, Investing in the Middle Class.

Need Help with Employee Benefits Plans?

If you are an employer and you want to learn more about what you can do for your employees, our employee benefits brokers can help.

If your business employs 10 or more employees and you don’t currently have an employee benefits plan, let us show you how a well-designed plan can benefit your employees and your business.

Benefit Strategies Inc. is located in Edmonton Alberta and we service businesses throughout all the Western Provinces plus the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

If you still have questions about how the Canadian 2019 Federal budget will affect employee benefits, please call our benefits brokers at 1-780-437-5070 or send us an email.

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Green Shield Canada – SMARTspend Benefits Plan

Mental health support and complete drug coverage are both central in the new SMARTspend benefits plan by Green Shield Canada.

Although massage therapy coverage has been terminated, the SMARTspend benefits plan is a revolutionary product by Green Shield Canada that will focus on:

  • Better support for mental health
  • Options for digital mental health support
  • 100% coverage with no dollar caps for managed drug formularies
  • Coaching by Pharmacists
  • Coaching by Dietitians
  • Vision care benefits
  • Dental care benefits

David Willows, chief innovation and marketing officer for Green Shield Canada, explains that the new SMARTspend benefits plan is a holistic response to cost containment, scientific literature, and outdated standardized plan designs. Older plan designs he says don’t reflect value and haven’t kept up with the increase in chronic diseases, mental health issues, or the impact of expensive drugs.

According to The Canadian Mental Health Association:

  • 50% of the population aged 40 or over has had, or currently suffers from mental illness
  • In 1998, the costs to treat mental illnesses in Canada was estimated at approximately $7.9 billion
  • $4.7 billion of those dollars were spent on care
  • $3.2 billion of those dollars were spent on treating disabilities and early death

Sponsors of the SMARTspend benefits plan can also add healthcare spending accounts and additional funds for massages and personal healthcare as options.

The prevalence of mental illness and its toll on the Canadian healthcare system make a compelling case for investing in mental health in Canada.

Still Have Questions About SMARTspend Benefits Plan?

Let Edmonton’s Benefit Strategies Inc. introduce your company to the new SMARTspend benefits plan by Green Shield Canada. For more information, call our benefits brokers at 1-780-437-5070 or send us an email.

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Top 10 Workforce Priorities: Survey

Employee productivity and engagement, wellness, and attracting and retaining employees are among the top workforce priorities for Canadian employers, according to a new survey

The survey polled approximately 200 Canadian plan sponsors in relation to their group benefits, priorities in the workforce, and more.

Top 10 Priorities

  1. Employee productivity/engagement
  2. Employee wellness
  3. Attracting, retaining employees; developing skills for changing the business environment
  4. Workplace mental health
  5. Employee financial wellness
  6. Family support obligations, the effect on productivity and well-being
  7. Chronic illness, the effect on productivity
  8. Multi-generational workforce
  9. Delayed retirement – productivity and performance challenges
  10. Delayed retirement – employees working past normal retirement age

Health, wellness, and engagement are key. How do you creatively implement and activate cost-effective employee benefit plans to support your workforce priorities?

Call one of Alberta’s most trusted employee benefits companies, Benefits Strategies Inc., at 1-780-437-5070 and speak with one of our advisors. We can also be reached by Email.

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3 Tips to Improve Acceptance of Employee Benefits Changes

Modifying Employee Benefits & Minimizing Resistance

Making employee benefits changes and package modifications are sometimes not easily understood by staff. In some cases, making changes to employee benefits do not receive the widespread acceptance that an employer might hope for.

There are numerous ways employers can explain employee benefits changes. The objective is to provide a better understanding of necessary modifications to employee benefits while minimizing resistance that could derail the entire procedure.

In this post, our employee benefits brokers offer 3 Tips on how to better communicate employee benefits changes.

Tip 1: Lead by Example When Implementing Employee Benefits Changes

Informal and formal leaders, as well as those who have the ability to influence decision-making processes, need to support the employee benefits changes completely.

Any attempt to present adapted or modified versions of employee benefits without sincerity and honesty on behalf of people in these leading positions may appear hollow. Contemplate having the CEO explain proposed changes in a clear and sincere message to employees.

Tip 2: Involve Employees in the Benefits Changes Process

Employees who are involved from the outset in the process of implementing employee benefits changes are more likely to be receptive to proposed revisions.

Surveys or focus groups are excellent ways to explore the preferences and needs of employees. Avoid asking questions that you may not want to hear the answers to. Also avoid bringing up any other elements that are not on the table for amendment.

Tip 3: Clearly Communicate Potential Benefits Changes

While you can’t reveal everything to all your employees, be candid about what is evolved and why the employee benefits changes are necessary.

  • Identify stakeholders and important messages
  • Develop a timeline
  • And provide employees with adequate feedback channels

If uncertain about how to develop an acceptable communication mechanism, ask your employees for their input.

Employees don’t always interpret employee benefits changes as being necessary or beneficial. The onus is on employers to provide a clear explanation of modifications and how the adaptations will affect employees. You will also need to communicate whether or not employees will be provided with opportunities to contribute and respond.

About Benefits Strategies

For over 30 years Benefits Strategies have been providing creative, customized benefits programs for executives and employees. Our plans not only increase employee morale and satisfaction, they also elevate your business profile.

If you have any questions or need assistance with communicating employee benefit changes, please call our Edmonton office at 1-780-437-5070 or send us an email.

You can read more about the Canadian Human Rights Pension and Insurance Regulations on the Government of Canada’s Justice Laws website.

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Can Employee Benefits Drive Employee Engagement?

Benefits of Employee Engagement

Employee benefits do help in improving employee engagement. In fact, as employee engagement rises, more than ever we are seeing positive spinoffs such as:

  • Lower employee turnover
  • Improved customer satisfaction
  • Elevated profitability
  • Increases in productivity
  • Reduction in absenteeism
  • Improved morale

Read more in our article Employee Well Being & Productivity – Survey Results.

1. Employee Benefits That Drive Engagement

To date, improved employee engagement results are more of an unintended consequence than a calculated implementation on behalf of an employer. As employee benefits are implemented, employees become more engaged and the advantages can often be immediate.

Varying percentages of employers view the following benefits as being most favourable for improving employee engagement:

  • Flexible Work Provisions — 39%
  • Human Resources Policies — 34%
  • A Healthy Work Environment — 29%
  • On Site Flu Shots — 26%

Even though most of these are cultural benefits and not related to employee benefits plans, as much as 97% of plan sponsors and 88% of plan members currently under flex plans agree that they prefer these programs.

2. More Employee Benefits Choices Help Power More Engagement

Expanding traditional employee benefits plans to include individual decision-making capabilities prompt significantly more engagement than a prescribed list of benefits. Allowing a degree of control over benefits where employees can choose coverage most appropriate to their own needs helps to build confidence and trust.

Malleability does not mean more choices will increase employer administration complexity however. Alternative plans are possible without adding additional pressure to management or human resources.

3. Employee Benefits — Planning for Engagement

At Benefit Strategies Inc., we recommend that you consider an employee benefits plan design with employee engagement in mind. Focus on what is significant to your employees to help improve their percentage of engagement. Our employee benefits brokers can help you contemplate offerings that provide the best results, such as flexibility and financial literacy.

Employees, who feel financially prepared, experience less stress, are healthier overall, and do exhibit more engagement and productivity. Integrating financial planning courses into your employee benefits curriculum can have significant advantages for employers.

Communication is key to incorporating any change and will keep the process relatively painless for human resources and management to administer.

  • Create circumstances where employees can provide feedback
  • Review options and encourage employee interaction
  • Highlight the well being of individual employees

Let our employee benefits brokers show you how you can propose new employee benefits features without completely disengaging from traditional plans. By increasing the opportunity for employee choices you will not only support positive health but also keep your employee benefits financially sustainable for the long term.

About Benefit Strategies

Located in Edmonton, Alberta, Benefit Strategies Inc. is here to help you create a flexible employee benefits package designed to interest and retain top employees. We provide value analyses backed with dependable advice, while working with the top benefits providers across Canada.

Whether your business is in Alberta, the Northwest Territories or any of the Western Provinces, our employee benefits brokers can help.

If you have any questions about improving employee engagement with the help of your employee benefits plan, please send us an email or call Benefit Strategies office in Edmonton at 1-780-437-5070.

For more information, check out this article by Custom Insight entitled, What Is Employee Engagement.

Check out some of our other related articles that may be of interest:

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Financial Issues Affect Employee Health & Productivity

What You As an Employer Can Do to Help

How does employee financial wellness affect the employer?

The relationship between health and productivity is an issue that most employers have to contend with.

As an employer, you’ve probably struggled with the effect of sickness in the workplace but have you also thought about employee financial wellness?

Does their financial health also affect their productivity and if so, what can you do about it?

recent study by Manulife Financial Corporation surveyed more than 200 employee assistance program counsellors. The study’s objective was to two-fold:

  1. To investigate how employees feel about their own financial struggles and how it affects their workplace productivity.
  2. And to find out what role employers can play in employee financial wellness.

Of the counselors surveyed, the results showed that:

  • 93% believe employee financial wellness affects work and productivity.
  • 99% think workplace pension and health plans play an important role in providing safety, security, and support to overall employee financial wellness.
  • 46% feel it is difficult for employees who suffer from financial health issues.
  • 74% feel personal finances have significant impact on the emotional and mental health of employees.

Only a third of the counsellors surveyed see people making this important connection between an employee’s personal finances and other problems.

As An Employer What Options Do You Have?

Are you aware of the employee financial wellness of your workforce? Are you wondering about strategies and how you can implement them to help improve productivity and the overall wellbeing of your employees?

Here are some suggestions that you might want to consider.

  1. Recognizethat the costs of an employee’s financial health are connected and similar to the costs of their physical and mental health.
  2. Help employees recognize how their financial health (along with physical and mental health) can affect their performance in the workplace.
  3. Provide resources such as employee financial wellness assessments that can help pinpoint potential causes of financial stress. (For example, your employees could be struggling with budgeting or debt, which can be huge stressors for an individual or household.)
  4. Incorporate employee benefits plans that could help alleviate financial stress such as health spending accounts that can take away the strain of a dental bill. You can also implement employee benefit plans that help employees start investing and saving for retirement.
  5. Break the stigma of financial health in the workplace. Over the last several years the movement to talk about mental health in the workplace has started to breakdown that stigma but it is equally as important to create a safe space for employees to talk about their finances, to ask questions and to get help finding the answers.

About Benefit Strategies Inc.

Benefit Strategies is based in Edmonton, Alberta and services business and corporate customers throughout Canada’s Western Provinces and the Northwest Territories. Let our experienced employee benefits brokers help you discover creative ways to reward your employees that will contribute to their financial wellbeing such as Group RRSPs and Pension Plans or Health Care Spending Accounts.

You can call Benefit Strategies Inc. in Edmonton, Alberta at 1-780-437-5070 or send us an email.

You might also be interested in these related blog articles:

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Comprehensive Managed Benefits Plans Help Control Costs

In a recent article titled, Businesses Need To Preserve Benefits Through Well-Managed Plans, SmallBizAdvisor urges private sector employers to ensure that their managed benefits plans are helping to preserve employee benefits.

The warning to private sector employers comes as a result of private plan spending increasing again in 2016. This is primarily due to rising drug costs as well as high-cost drugs and high-cost patients, as shown through a recent Express Scripts Canada Drug Trend Report:

  • 14% of employee benefits plan members account for 72% of total plan spending.
  • High-cost drug spend has increased from 13% of total drug spend in 2007 to 30% of total drug spend in 2016.
  • $1 out of every $5 spent on prescription drugs in 2016 went towards diabetes or inflammatory condition medications.

Furthermore, the study shows that cancer treatment drugs are very popular in the drug development pipeline.

In coming years, it is expected that many cancer treatments will move from hospital-administered treatments (covered by public health plans) to self-administered treatments (covered by private-sector claims). This is likely to keep the drug portion of employee managed benefits plans on the rise for many years to come.

Comprehensive Managed Prescription Drug Plans

Rather than abandoning employee managed benefits plans completely or eliminating the drug treatment portion of your plan, there are other ways to manage and curb rising costs.

Smart employers are seeking the help of creative insurance brokers like Benefit Strategies Inc. and starting to implement Comprehensive Managed Prescription Drug Plans. This concept comes out of the fact that only a small portion of plan members use a large majority of the total spending plan of a company. Often, these individuals with chronic or serious illnesses are on several different medications prescribed by different specialists.

As Michael Biskey, President of Express Scripts Canada says, “Most Canadians simply do not have the clinical knowledge they need to figure out which drug is the most cost-effective, clinically appropriate option for their treatment.”

Comprehensive Managed Benefits Plans work by focusing plan management efforts and educating members to make the most effective, informed health decisions while helping reduce out-of-pocket expenses and minimizing plan spending.

In turn, the employer achieves a better drug benefit ROI while still being able to offer employees and their dependents the life-saving treatments they need.

About Benefit Strategies Inc.

Edmonton’s Benefit Strategies Inc. has been serving small to medium sized businesses as well as corporate clients throughout Alberta, the Northwest Territories, and the Western Provinces of Canada for more than three decades.

Let us show you how Comprehensive Managed Benefits Plans can control costs and still help you reward your employees. You can call Benefit Strategies Inc. in Edmonton, Alberta at 1-780-437-5070 or send us an email.

Be sure to read our article How To Prepare for Benefits Cost Increases.

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Trend Alert: Canadian Salaries Expected to Rise in 2018

As you prepare for next year you are likely already thinking about whether or not to give out salary increases, and if so, how much. Here are two recent Canadian studies that showcase how other employers across Canada anticipate rewarding employees in the next year.

Two Studies Show Salaries Expected to Rise

A recent study by Willis Towers Watson, a Toronto based Insurance Company, surveyed over 300 Canadian employers on whether or not they project base salary increases for all or some employee groups in 2018.

The Willis Towers Watson survey results showed that:

  • 94% of Canadian employers expect to increase salaries in 2018 (up from just 90% in 2017)
  • Employers expect to award base increases of 2.8% – to both executive and non-executive employees

In another Canadian salary study by Mercer Canada, the study projects that Canadian salaries will increase by 2.4% in 2018 compared to the 2.3% increase in 2017.

Salary Increases Need To Be Strategic

The Mercer study found that top performers can expect to receive salary increases of up to 1.8 times that of average performers. Both top performers and those with in-demand skill sets will expect to be paid differently because competition is so fierce.

The Willis Towers Watson study found that most employers are rewarding what they call “star performers” with substantially larger salary increases while giving minimal – if any – increases to their weakest performers.

Employee Retention #1 Priority for Employers in 2018

The Mercer Canada study found that 69% of survey respondents are most concerned about employee retention when it comes to compensation decisions in 2018.

The second highest concern when administering salary increases is overall economic climate.

Alterative Compensations Instead of Salary Increases

Rather than just handing out pay raises only to top performers, or pay raises straight across the board, Allison Griffiths (principal at Mercer Canada), suggest employers look to alternate compensation packages.

For example, extra vacation days, education and skill development, or work-from-home options could be more lucrative than a straight across dollar raise. The report also showed that employee benefit plans can also fit in as an alternative to salary increases in 2018.

About Benefit Strategies Inc.

As employee benefit brokers based out of Edmonton, Alberta, Benefit Strategies Inc. is dedicated to helping Canadian businesses compensate and reward their employees. We service small businesses and corporations throughout Alberta, the Western Provinces and the Northwest Territories.

For more information about how to leverage employee benefits to retain and compensate your employees in 2018 please contact Benefit Strategies Inc. Call us at 1-780-437-5070 or contact our benefits brokers by email.

You might also our article titled How to Deal with Employee Benefits Cost Increase.

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Tips for Minimizng Employee Benefits Cost Increases

Minimizing employee benefits cost increases has always been an insurance industry concern. Let’s look at our options.

Why are benefit costs increasing?

The main reason for the rising cost of employee benefits is because of the skyrocketing costs of specialty drugs. Many of these specialty drugs are new to the market in the last five years and are now starting to affect insurance premiums. Insurance companies do not want to take on the risk of expensive drugs used to treat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and other complex illnesses.

Most experts believe that minimizing employee benefits cost increases will be an ongoing concern for employers as the costs of benefits continue to rise. Rather than fret about how you will be able to continue offering competitive employee benefit plans, call our Edmonton employee benefits advisors at 1-780-437-5070. We will be able to offer you creative solutions for reducing the costs of employee benefits.

In this article, our Benefit Strategies advisors will discuss several creative solutions for minimizing employee benefit cost increases.

1. Apply a cap to the drug component of your benefits plan.

Since we know that the rising costs of employee benefits are due to the rising cost of specialty drugs, many employers are placing a cap on the drug component of their employee benefits plan. Many Canadian provinces offer government plans to cover specialty drugs. For example, Alberta Health offers health benefit plans for eligible Alberta residents. In British Columbia, PharmaCare exists for eligible BC residents.

Many employee benefit plan providers are willing to help employees get access to these government programs in the case of unforeseen circumstances.

2. Check out Hybrid Health Spending Accounts.

You no longer have to settle for a defined employee benefits plan or a defined contribution plan. You can have the best of both worlds with a hybrid health spending account, a model that combines a traditional benefits plan with a health spending account. Hybrid employee benefits plans work great for small businesses who buy plans according to their specific needs while limiting employee benefits costs increases. This strategy can go a long way in minimizing employee benefits cost increases.

3. Pay what you actually use with an ASO Insurance Plan.

Many companies who plan to offer employee benefits for the long term are choosing Administrative Services Only plans or ASO Plans. ASO insurance plans are flexible, allowing the employer to fund the plan that is administered by a third party. At the end of the month or year (depending on the ASO plan), the administrator will calculate actual claims and either refund the employer (if the plan was underused) or bill the employer for any overage.

Over time, these ASO insurance plans are often more cost effective, although some businesses may be reluctant to use them because of unpredictable monthly claims.

4. Understand the reasons for your increasing benefits plan costs.

As your benefits plan broker, Benefit Strategies is committed to minimizing employee benefits cost increases. We can help break down and explain the rising costs of your employee benefits plan. For instance, many times the benefits costs increases are occurring because of claims made by spouses and dependents. Once we identify the reasons behind the rising costs we can likely help provide several solutions to minimize any further cost increases.

5. Shop around among different insurance benefits brokers.

If you feel your benefit plan premiums have increased too much you can collect quotes from other insurance benefits brokers. Most of the time it is more beneficial to stay with your company and ask what they can do to lower your rates. At the same time, by making yourself aware of the competitive plans and pricing available on the market you are being a smart and informed consumer. Even if you don’t end up switching providers, you will have the peace of mind that you aren’t paying more than necessary.

About Benefit Strategies

Benefit Strategies Inc. has been providing employee benefits advice to businesses and corporate clients throughout Western Canada for over four decades. Let us help you find creative ways to save money by minimizing employee benefits cost increases.

To learn more, please call Edmonton’s Benefit Strategies Inc. at 1-780-437-5070 or send us an email.

You might also our article entitled Budget Employee Benefits for Small Business.

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Tips on Transitioning From Fixed to Custom Benefit Plans

The overall trend in the last several years for employee benefits is to move away from traditional or fixed benefits to more tailored, custom benefit plans.

One example is Health Spending Accounts that allow employees to choose the benefits they want. And, since employers only have to pay for the benefits that have been used, employers can save.

There are several reasons why Canadian companies are moving to custom benefit plans instead of traditional plans:

  • Cost Savings – Employers are able to control costs by setting benefit limits each year.
  • More Desirable – Employees are empowered to choose how to spend their employee benefits allowance, which helps them feel like they are getting better coverage.
  • Flexibility – Custom benefit plans are suitable for diverse workforces as employees can choose which benefits they actually need and want.

In this article, our Edmonton employee benefits brokers will offer four important employee benefits tips to consider if you are thinking of switching from a traditional benefits plan to more tailored, custom benefit plans.

1. Consider a Health Spending Account

Health spending accounts are great for employers because they can set the health spending amount. Employees in turn are able to choose where to spend their money. Be sure to read our article What Can a Flexible Benefits Plan Offer Your Employees?

Many companies transitioning between traditional and custom benefit plans ask this question, “What happens in the case of serious, costly medical issues or emergencies?”

Employees can often anticipate their needs for eyeglasses or prescription medications for the year, but what happens if there is an unexpected medical expense that exceeds their health spending account?

One solution is to keep a basic traditional plan and have a health spending account as an “add-on” for employees. Many employers are choosing to pair the custom benefit plans with a catastrophic covered or pooled plan. This ensures that employees are covered for more eventualities.

2. Check Out Administrative-Services Only (ASO) Plans

If your main reason for switching to custom benefit plans is cost savings, you may want to consider an ASO Plan.

ASO Plans are funded by the employer and administered by a third party. The employer only pays for what is used because the plan costs are based on actual (not anticipated) claims. If fewer claims are made than anticipated, the employer gets to keep the surplus.

The only downside to this option is that the employer will be left owing if there are any claims above the premiums paid for the year. Basically, the insurance company will predict anticipated claims for your workplace and if you exceed that amount you will be responsible to pay the deficit.

If you plan to offer employee benefit plans year over year, this option often ends up being slightly more cost effective.

3. Clearly Communicate the Potential Changes with Employees

Change in the workplace is often met with resistance regardless of how big or small the change is.

Be sure to work with your insurance broker to put your benefit plans into action to help make the transition very smooth. Employees may be worried the new custom benefit plans do not offer the same coverage or value. Be sure to outline the advantages of the change and confirm that each employee understands what they are getting under the new plans.

4. Find a Balance Between Employee Satisfaction and Bottom Line

There is always a fine balance of cost savings for the employer while still offering sufficient benefits plans to make sure your employees are well taken care. You should also consider making your traditional benefits plan or your tailored benefits plan a part of a competitive compensation package.

Can you attract and retain a qualified workforce with your current benefits plan?

About Benefit Strategies

For over four decades Benefit Strategies Inc. has been working with corporations and business owners throughout Alberta and Canada’s Western provinces to create cost effective employee benefits plans that reflect current market conditions.

Want to learn more about the differences between traditional and tailored health spending accounts? If you wish to discuss how to transition over to custom benefit plans, please call our office in Edmonton, Alberta at 1-780-437-5070 or send us an email.