Employers underestimate presence of chronic disease in workforce: Survey

One-half of workers with workplace drug plans diagnosed with chronic disease or condition
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 07/17/2019
health care
Chronic pain can impact 67 per cent of employees when it comes to productivity and repeated absences from the workplace. Shutterstock/Joyseulay

Employers are under-estimating the presence of chronic disease in the workforce, which suggests they may also underestimate the negative impact of unmanaged disease on productivity, according to the Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey.

Plan sponsors estimate that 39 per cent of the workforce has a chronic condition, when in fact 54 per cent of plan members have been diagnosed with at least one chronic disease or condition — increasing to 69 per cent among those aged 55 to 64.

Issues around chronic disease:

  • Chronic pain can impact 67 per cent of employees when it comes to productivity and repeated absences from the workplace.
  • 87 per cent of employees with a chronic condition would like to know more about their condition and how to treat it.
  • 82 per cent of employers would like their benefit plan to do more to support employees with chronic conditions.

"The optimal use of drugs to treat chronic conditions needs to come before conversations about coverage for higher-cost drugs,” said Danielle Vidal, director of business development at SSQ Insurance. “Awareness of the impact of non-adherence appears to be growing, but as an industry we can raise more of an alarm so that this becomes a priority for action.”

Three-quarters (74 per cent) of employees would consent to pharmacogenetic testing so physicians can prescribe medications that are most likely to work well for them (referred to as precision medicine or personalized medicine), said Sanofi.

Two-thirds (65 per cent) of employers are interested in providing coverage for pharmacogenetic testing, found the survey, based on a total national sample of 1,505 primary holders of group health benefit plans.

Two-thirds (65 per cent) of employees would consent to receive health information based on their personal use of benefits, while 74 per cent of employers would like their benefit plan's insurance carrier to send this kind of targeted health messaging to employees.

"It's definitely encouraging that plan members are more comfortable than not with personalized communications. But many plan sponsors say that they can't afford even one person complaining about the use of their data, and that shuts things down. Certainly, we understand that, but it's unfortunate because there is really good opportunity here," said
Ryan Weiss, assistant vice-president of group customer market development at Great-West Life.

As for medical cannabis, 45 per cent of employers agree it should be covered by the workplace health benefit plan — up from 34 per cent in 2018 — and 64 per cent of employees believe medical cannabis should be covered.

When it comes to the a possible national pharmacare program in Canada, 77 per cent of employees and 52 per cent of employers admit they have low or no knowledge about such a program.

But levels of support are high among employees (87 per cent) and employers (84 per cent) for a pharmacare that fills gaps in coverage for Canadians who have no insurance or are underinsured, and does not affect workplace drug plans, found the survey.

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