National dental benefits, unemployment insurance, pharmacare, a national strategy for drugs for rare diseases—these are among the policy discussions that affect private group insurance plans, yet plan sponsors rarely have a seat at the table. Benefits Alliance (BA) is working to change that. The following conversation with Carolyne Eagan, President of BA, explains why and how.
What do plan sponsors need to know about Benefits Alliance when it comes to addressing today’s top issues?
We’re transitioning to become a strong voice on behalf of plan sponsors and their plan members as well as benefits advisors, our members. Advocacy is one of the four pillars of our new strategic plan. We will represent plan sponsors’ interests, concerns, priorities and recommendations to all relevant stakeholders, including governments, insurance carriers and providers.
Why advocate on behalf of groups who are not benefits advisors, your core members?
Put very simply, our mandate is to help our members meet and exceed the expectations of their clients. Advocating on behalf of plan sponsors very much lands within that, and we’re excited to be in a position in our evolution to really ramp up our efforts in this area.
BA was established in 2000 when a few independent group benefits and pension advisory firms came together to pool resources, share information and establish best practices. Today, through our member firms, we are helping to manage benefits and pension plans for more than 10,000 small to mid-size employers. Our proprietary tools, partnerships with preferred providers, conferences and continuing education programs serve our members and their clients well.
We feel strongly that advocacy is our next frontier, not just for our members’ clients but for all plan sponsors. For too long decision-makers have not considered plan sponsors’ perspectives, which often leads to unintended consequences for group benefits and retirement plans. But the real problem is Canada lacks an advocacy body dedicated to serving the interests of plan sponsors and their members. Benefits Alliance intends to fill that gap. We will advocate, educate and bring win-win solutions to the table. Governments and other stakeholders will come to know they can reliably consult with us.
What can plan sponsors expect in the coming months?
Benefits Alliance has long had an advocacy committee and we are putting significantly more resourcing behind it. We have a media plan to build visibility and issue timely statements on issues as they unfold, such as the national dental plan and the federal government’s changes to employment insurance (EI).
We’ve increased our capacity to make submissions during public consultations on new or changing policies. For example, we submitted recommendations on behalf of plan sponsors on proposed changes to the CAP [Capital Accumulation Plans] Guidelines. We are advocating for a seat at the table for the national dental plan. We’ll be ready when the federal government calls for public input on pharmacare and a national strategy for drugs for rare diseases.
Benefits Alliance also has a seat at the table with the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, as part of its Together for Better Health committee, and we will continue to work with other related organizations to represent the interests of advisors, plan sponsors and plan members.
What are your advocacy priorities for the Canadian Dental Benefit? And the recent change to the EI?
The Canadian Dental Benefit (CDB) is an interim measure while the federal government hashes out the Canadian Dental Care Program (CDCP). Canadians with private dental plans are not eligible for the CDB. But nothing is in place to validate insurance status. People could double dip, intentionally or not, and no one would know. We need to raise awareness of that.
For plan sponsors, our focus is education. First and foremost, our message to plan sponsors that may be thinking of dropping their dental plan: don’t do it. The CDB is a very limited, unregulated program that falls well short of private dental plans. On the other hand, plan sponsors without a dental plan can let their employees know this is an option to improve dental care for their children, for those with a household income below $90,000.
On the EI change, we are pressing for clarity on its impact on the federal government’s EI Premium Reduction Program for plan sponsors with short-term disability plans.
On the educational front, we are getting the word out that the change mainly benefits employees without any disability benefits. Our recommendation for plan sponsors with disability benefits is to meet with your benefits advisor to review your current plan and goals and then plan for changes, if that’s what you decide.