Recession not the time to trim health benefits



    
    - Survey Suggests Balance Must Be Struck Between Managing Costs and
    Employee Productivity -
    

    LAVAL, QC, May 27 /CNW/ - While it may be tempting for employers to cut
health benefit spending in these uncertain economic times, companies must
balance current pressures with the short and longer-term need for
organizational performance and employee productivity if they are to weather
the storm.
    These findings and others are drawn from the 12th edition of The
sanofi-aventis Healthcare Survey released today. The national survey of 2,090
health benefit plan members is the most comprehensive research to examine the
attitudes and preferences of Canadians as they relate to their
employer-sponsored health benefit plan. The survey also explores employee
perceptions regarding the role of the public healthcare system and the
workplace.
    The survey reveals key insights for employers to consider in reviewing
the value of benefits programs - to the company and to staff:

    
    -   Stress levels are of concern to employees. Stress affects
        productivity and, therefore, overall company performance: more than
        one in four say they did not get much work done when experiencing
        stress.
    -   Employees continue to see great value in health benefit plans: more
        than half would choose their health plan over $15,000 in cash.
    -   Access to healthcare is of significant concern to benefit plan
        members: respondents who say they are in poor or very poor health are
        more likely to say that access is an issue.
    -   While employers continue to do a good job in providing health and
        wellness programs, more must be done to engage employees in
        participating: companies that offer health promotion programs are
        more likely to have their health benefit plans rated as excellent or
        very good.

    Stress impacting health and productivity
    

    While it appears a good number of Canadian employees are in good health
and on the right track when it comes to their well-being, with almost half
(47%) of respondents reporting their health was excellent or very good over
the past year, the economic climate is clearly taking a toll on their stress
levels.
    Close to one-third (31%) agree stress in their home or personal life made
them physically ill in the past year and close to two-in-five (38%) say the
same regarding workplace stress. In fact, more than one in four (28%) say they
did not get much work done when experiencing stress. Nearly as many (26%)
called in sick for a couple of days when feeling stressed. The good news is
that plan members who strongly agree their workplace stress has made them
physically ill in the last year and have a workplace wellness program are more
likely to use such programs (56% versus 35% overall).
    Personal finances or meeting personal financial responsibilities was a
top issue (8-10 on 10-point scale) for 31% of respondents. Residents of
Alberta (33%) and Ontario (32%) are more likely to report very high stress
over their finances than those in other regions of the country. Ontarians are
also feeling the highest level of job insecurity (20% vs 15% overall). To put
this in context, British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario have shown the fastest
decline in employment since the recession started and since October 2008,
174,000 jobs have been lost in Ontario, with almost all of those full-time
positions.(1)
    "Today's economic climate is a great opportunity for employers to assist
in mitigating stress among its employees. Given the impact of stress on
productivity and health, employers need to specifically and comprehensively
address this issue from all angles, including wellness programming, help with
counselling, fair workloads, support and communication," says Jacques
L'Espérance, president of J. L'Espérance Actuariat Conseil Inc. and a member
of The sanofi-aventis Healthcare Survey Advisory Board.

    The value of health benefit plans

    While job losses and higher debt loom for many Canadian families, survey
respondents still prefer their health benefit plan over cash. Fifty-two per
cent would choose their health benefit plan over $15,000 (vs. 41% choosing the
money). Even when the cash was increased to $20,000, nearly half would choose
their health benefit plan (45% vs. 47% choosing the money). When asked which
part of the health benefit plan they found most valuable, the majority (64%)
say day-to-day health coverage for themselves and their families.
    Moreover, employees report they too have a role to play to helping offset
the cost of their health benefit plan. Nearly six in 10 (57%) of respondents
strongly or somewhat agree they have an obligation to help their employer
control the plan cost.
    "People are at the heart of an organization's success - a weak economy
doesn't change this. Even if some companies must cut staff to survive, they
must also look after those who remain. Employees need peace of mind, and the
survey demonstrates health benefit plan provides an important level of
security," says Chris Bonnett a member of The sanofi-aventis Healthcare Survey
Advisory Board and president of Toronto-based H3 Consulting/businesshealth.

    Access to healthcare a concern

    One important concern to health benefit plan holders is access to
healthcare and treatment, including physician visits, diagnostics, medication
and urgent care. Respondents who say they are in poor or very poor health are
more likely to find access lacking (31% say it is poor or very poor versus 23%
overall), relative to those in good health (27%), very good health (19%) or
excellent health (16%). In Quebec, only 18% of respondents rated access to
healthcare services as excellent or very good, with 35% in that province
rating access as poor or very poor.
    When it comes to medication, a majority of respondents (57%) indicate
they have had difficulty accessing prescription medications due to at least
one of a number of different scenarios presented, including almost one-in-ten
(8%) respondents who did not buy a prescribed drug because it was not covered
by their health benefit plan. For families whose household incomes are below
$30,000, 18% did not buy a prescribed drug because it wasn't covered.
"Employers have an opportunity to protect their interest by helping address
gaps in access to care and treatment, and supporting employees with a faster
and safe return to work and productivity," says Bonnett.

    Health and wellness programs can provide returns

    The survey highlights the return the investment in health and wellness
programs can generate for employers. Companies that offer health promotion
programs are significantly more likely to have their health benefit plans
rated as excellent or very good (65% vs 54%), have employees who are more
satisfied with their jobs (82% vs 77%) and have employees who feel an
obligation to help control benefit costs (66% vs 57%).
    And while employees must participate in wellness programs to benefit,
many do not. In fact, only 35% of those with access to workplace wellness
programs say they use the programs, either definitely (11%) or kind of (24%).
Plan members said they would be more likely to change their health behaviour
if their employer subsidized a gym membership (62%), provide small incentives
(61%), offered healthy food choices (56%) or more flexible hours (55%), time
at lunch or breaks for fitness activity (51%).
    "The take away here is that employers need to realize that just offering
the wellness program is only a small part of the equation. They must be very
strategic about ensuring program elements are relevant to and of interest to
employees, and offering incentives to employees to engage in these healthier
behaviours is critical - especially during challenging economic times," says
Bonnett.

    About the Survey

    Sanofi-aventis commissioned Rogers Business and Professional Publishing
Group to conduct the 2009 survey, the 12th in the series. These are the
findings of a poll conducted on behalf of Rogers Business and Professional
Publishing Group and sanofi-aventis from December 2 to 22, 2008. This online
and telephone survey of 2,090 primary health benefit plan members was
conducted via the Ipsos I-Say Online Panel, Ipsos-Reid's national online
panel, supplemented by randomly recruited primary health benefit plan members
via a telephone survey. The results of this poll are based on a sample where
quota sampling and weighting are employed to balance demographics and ensure
that the sample's composition reflects that of the actual Canadian population
according to 2006 Census data. Quota samples with weighting from the Ipsos
online panel provide results that are intended to approximate a probability
sample. Statistical margins of error are not applicable to online polls,
however, an unweighted probability sample of this size, with a 100% response
rate, would have an estimated margin of error of +/- 2.1 percentage points, 19
times out of 20, had the entire adult population of Canada been polled.
    To view the survey in its entirety, visit www.sanofi-aventis.ca.

    About sanofi-aventis

    Sanofi-aventis, a leading global pharmaceutical company, discovers,
develops and distributes therapeutic solutions to improve the lives of
everyone. Sanofi-aventis is listed in Paris (EURONEXT : SAN) and in New York
(NYSE : SNY).
    Sanofi-aventis is represented in Canada by the pharmaceutical company
sanofi-aventis Canada Inc., based in Laval, Quebec, and by the vaccines
company Sanofi Pasteur Limited, based in Toronto, Ontario. Together they
employ more than 2,000 people and are leaders in Canada's biopharmaceutical
sector, a critical research-based industry that generates jobs, business and
opportunity throughout the country.

    
    References
    (1) Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, April 2009
    





For further information:

For further information: CHRISTIAN MARCOUX, Director, Communications,
Sanofi-aventis Canada Inc., Tel: (877) 904-2667, Fax: (514) 956-4199,
christian.marcoux@sanofi-aventis.com; For media requests, please contact:
English: HALEY MORRISON, Communications Manager, Tel: (416) 764-2072,
haley.morrison@rci.rogers.com; French: MELISSA MALOUL-COHEN, Conseillère, Tel:
(514) 845-2257, poste 228, melissa.maloul-cohen@cohnwolfe.ca

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