Key Conversations in Benefits 2023

Employee Benefits Conversations
Employee Benefits Conversations

Last year our blog “Top Conversations of 2022” proved to be among our most popular articles for the year! Once again, this year, we have compiled a recap of the Top Conversations in Benefits, from our perspective as benefits advisors.

Last year we recapped the top conversations in benefits, which can be summarized as:

  • The ongoing extreme difficulty in hiring reliable, qualified staff;
  • The permanent shift to a hybrid work arrangement;
  • The “Great Resignation” or rather, in Canada the “Great Retirement;”
  • The brand new Federal Dental Plan;
  • The change to the duration of EI Sickness benefits;
  • The continued focus on mental health and wellbeing;
  • And lastly, high inflation.

Has it Become Easier to Hire Great People?

According to experts, we should expect the unemployment rate to rise, with the population increasing at levels that are outpacing hiring, due to the arrival of many newcomers. With the job vacancy rate down, employers are able to be more selective with hiring. While this may sound like great news, we are still hearing from our Client Community that it is incredibly challenging to find skilled, reliable employees.


Remote or Hybrid Work Arrangements are Still a Key Request for Job Seekers

Related to this, we saw many in our Client Community move to remote workforces or hybrid workforces; not as a hangover from the requirements of the pandemic, but as a desired new norm. The recruiters in our network tell us this is still in the top 2 or 3 for job requirements for job seekers these days.

We wrote about this extensively back in 2022, in our two-part article ‘Is Working from Home an Employee Benefit?” where we looked at many of the considerations and statistics surrounding the (at the time) new reality.


Inflation is Impacting Benefits Costs

We touched on inflation in our January 2023 recap, but this became the dominating topic of many benefits conversations as we saw costs increase across a wide spectrum of services: practitioner visits, equipment, drugs, and dental costs. While it’s easy to blame inflation on the rising cost of benefits, the reality is that insurance providers are paying higher per-claim costs in many instances, even when coinsurance and maximum reimbursement limits are in place. This especially impacted dental claim costs, and unfortunately, we anticipate the dental fee guide to increase once again in 2024. The bottom line? Inflation is affecting everyone. This is a global economic issue and is certainly not isolated to those of us here in Canada.

Related to inflation and hiring, wage increases are expected to be modest this year, and economists are not expecting to see wage costs as a notable factor in driving inflation.


Pay Transparency Legislation Implemented

It will be interesting to see the potential impacts of pay transparency legislation taking effect in some provinces, including BC. Will pay transparency legislation drive wages up?

With the stated goal of closing the gender pay gap, effective for November 1st 2023, employers were required to post salary ranges for publicly advertised jobs. Furthermore, employers will be required to publicly post gender pay gaps (staggered based on the size of the company, beginning now, and expanding to smaller companies through to 2026.  The stated goal is to reduce unconscious bias around gender and ethnicity.


How Should the Employer and the Employee Split the Cost of Benefits?

In 2023, we received many requests for advice and changes related to the sharing of benefits premiums between employers and employees.

Many employers made adjustments this year. For some, in an effort to reduce the burden placed on employees, employers were shifting a greater percentage of the cost to the employer. Other employers went the other direction, looking to see employees cover a great percentage of their benefits premiums. As a reminder, the employer must cover no less than 50% of the total cost of benefits, and tax efficiency is an important consideration when arranging your cost split. We wrote about strategies and common practices back at the end of 2023.


Federal Adjustments: EI Sickness Benefits and Long-Term Disability 

The change to EI Sickness benefits via Service Canada which saw the maximum payment period increased from 15 weeks to 26 weeks (6 months), resulted in very little disruption for those with Long Term Disability plans in place. The vast majority of employers kept their Long Term Disability benefits intact with the waiting period at the standard 119 days/ 17 weeks. While this was matched to the previous EI Sickness benefits duration, employers agreed that it was more desirable to have employees move more quickly to long term disability benefits rather than remain on the more limited EI Sickness benefits. Additionally, there were negligible cost savings in adjusting the Long Term Disability waiting period. 


The Federal Dental Plan and T4 Reporting Requirements

After years of discussion and development the Federal government launched the Federal Dental Plan, providing coverage for children under 12 only. In order to qualify for any level of coverage, family income must be under $90K, and the children must not have access to private dental coverage (i.e. Employer plans).

As a result of this program, on 2023 T4’s Employers are required to report on Box 45 whether as of December 31st, 2023, their employees were ‘eligible to access dental insurance or dental coverage of any kind, including health spending and wellness accounts, due to their current or former employment”.

The following codes are to be used:

  • Not eligible to access any dental care insurance, or coverage of dental services of any kind
  • Payee only
  • Payee, spouse, and dependent children
  • Payee and their spouse
  • Payee and their dependent children


Please note if you have a benefits program that provides dental coverage, the vast majority of employers will report code 3 “Payee, spouse and dependent children.”

The codes above have created a lot of confusion, as they are based on access and not actual enrolment in the benefit for all eligible individuals within the family unit. Specially, if a plan offers family coverage but the member has waived benefits for either themselves or family members, Code 3 still applies as that is the type of coverage available. 

Please note employees must have been eligible for coverage as of December 31st, 2023, for Code 3 to apply (i.e. not still in the waiting period). 

As expected, the Federal Dental plan did not impact existing employer-sponsored dental plans, but changes may be coming, given this was indicated as the first stage in a more comprehensive Federal program.


Mental Health Support Discussions Continue to Expand and Evolve

When it comes to discussions with our supplier partners (i.e. providers such as Manulife, RBC Insurance, Pacific Blue Cross, Canada Life and myHSA), we have noticed a movement towards branding themselves as health and wellness driven. More and more services are geared at healthy living, whether this is aimed at improving activity levels, diet and prominently, mental health. In many instances, they are tapping into the data they have on hand to produce customized solutions.

A cornerstone of this is mental health support; all carriers are providing resources and coverage solutions. This is an area where we continue to see plan sponsors increasing their coverage, along with their communication and promotion of available services. Employers added to their mental health offerings in a variety of ways, most commonly:

  • Adding Health/ Wellness Spending accounts to remove financial barriers to mental health practitioners
  • Adding or promoting Employee & Family Assistance Programs
  • Ensuring coverage for applicable practitioners with paramedical services: psychologist, clinical counsellor, social worker
  • Enhancing coverage for the paramedical practitioners with higher limits.

The availability of online, high quality and often free resources is enormous and continuously evolving.


An Emerging Trend: Inclusive Coverages

As iA stated in a January 18th communication “today’s employees expect their organization to support them fully in their multiple and diverse needs.” For providers, conversations have focused on a few key areas:   

Gender Affirmation: the cost for gender affirmation procedures not covered under provincial medical has been widely discussed the past few years, and we now have providers including this coverage. For example, Equitable Life rolled this coverage out late 2022, with the stated aim of “offering solutions that support diversity, equity and inclusion.” We expect to see more providers rolling out gender affirmation coverages.

Fertility, Surrogacy, Adoption: despite fertility problems affecting one in six couples hoping to conceive, fertility coverage has traditionally been limited to drugs and often with a defined annual limit. A concern for many was uncovered related costs, such as for procedures.

iA is one provider that has provided what they call “Family Support” coverage, where in addition to drugs, care and treatments such as doctors’ fees and lab services, are also covered, including for surrogates.  Additionally, on an ASO basis, iA is offering Adoption coverage for costs related to the adoption of a child.

While many of these costs have been eligible through Health and Wellness Spending Accounts, it is new to see insurance providers identifying and defining these coverage areas.


Diabetes and Adult ADHD Medications on the Rise

Adult ADHD claims have steadily increased over the past several years. We now routinely see Vyvanse, a leading amphetamine-based drug for ADHD as one of the top claimed medications for the employers with whom we work. As Manulife shared, this is “recognized more widely as a condition that continues into adulthood.” In short, the kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD are now adults, who have continued to be medicated. In addition to this, there is major rise in adult diagnosis of ADHD, which is being credited in part to increased awareness through social media. In particular, there is an increased diagnosis for women, as we now have a greater understanding of how differently the symptoms present in men vs women.

Diabetes has been on the rise for many years now; 30% (12M Canadians) live with diabetes or prediabetes, with over 90% Type 2. As well, the data shows diabetes diagnoses are increasing among younger age groups.  We are seeing diabetes medications such as Jardiance, Trulicity and Metformin continually in the top ten claimed drugs for many clients.


Ozempic Dominates Drug Conversations

But without a doubt 2023’s “most frequently asked question” relates to the costly Type 2 diabetes medication Ozempic (Semaglutide) which is a daily injectable. This blockbuster drug is approved in Canada for the management of Type 2 diabetes; however, it is extremely popular for its well-known side effect, weight loss. This drug was all over the news, with celebrities endorsing it for its ability to curb one’s appetite, leading to quick and significant weight loss.

In short, members wanted to gain access to the drug, most often for weight-loss purposes. However, the drug here is BC requires Special Authority approval. To be approved, you must require it for treatment of type 2 diabetes, “After inadequate glycemic control on maximum tolerated dose of metformin.” Unfortunately, in Canada, getting Ozempic is not as simple as just requesting it from your doctor!


What to Expect for 2024?

Here at the Immix Group, 2024 has been very busy so far! Many employers are asking for ideas to better meet the needs of their employees, and looking for details on what their employees are claiming in order to better customize their benefits offerings.

We unfortunately continue to see claims rising and expect this to continue through 2024, and therefore expect to have many conversations with employers regarding cost containment strategies.

As always, we welcome you to reach out to discuss optimization strategies for your benefits programs.


The key topics revolved around the challenges in hiring, the shift to hybrid work arrangements, the “Great Retirement,” the Federal Dental Plan, changes to EI Sickness benefits, a focus on mental health, and the impact of high inflation.

Employers are able to be more selective, with many newcomers meaning there are many job seekers; however, employers are still reporting a difficulty in finding skilled employees.

Yes, remote or hybrid work arrangements continue to be a top priority for job seekers, indicating a shift from a pandemic necessity to a desired norm.

Inflation has driven up costs across various services, impacting practitioner visits, equipment, drugs, and dental expenses. Insurance providers are facing higher per-claim costs, especially in dental claim costs.

Pay transparency legislation, effective from November 1st, 2023, requires employers to post salary ranges for publicly advertised jobs in an effort to close the gender pay gap.

Many employers adjusted their benefits cost-sharing strategies in 2023. While some shifted more costs to employers, others leaned towards employees covering a greater percentage. Employers must cover at least 50% of the total benefit cost.

EI Sickness benefits saw an increase in the maximum payment period to 26 weeks (end of 2022). This change had minimal disruption for those with Long Term Disability plans, with waiting periods mostly unaffected.

Employers must report on Box 45 of 2023 T4s whether employees were eligible for dental coverage as of December 31, 2023. Specific codes are provided for different eligibility scenarios.

Carriers are increasingly focusing on mental health, providing resources and coverage solutions. Employers enhance mental health offerings through various means, including Health/Wellness Spending accounts and Employee & Family Assistance Programs.

There is a growing trend towards inclusive coverages, including gender affirmation procedures, fertility, surrogacy, adoption, aiming to support diverse needs and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Adult ADHD claims have increased steadily, with a rise in adult diagnoses, attributed to increased awareness. Diabetes diagnoses, particularly Type 2, are on the rise, impacting medication claims. The most frequently asked question is about the costly Type 2 diabetes medication Ozempic (Semaglutide), frequently sought for its weight-loss side effect.

Lindsay Byrka

Lindsay Byrka BA, BEd, CFP

Vice President, Immix Group: An Employee Benefits Company
A Suite 450 – 888 Dunsmuir St. Vancouver V6C 3K4
O 604-688-5262 E


Immix Group: An Employee Benefits Company

888 Dunsmuir St
Suite 450,
Vancouver, BC V6C 3K4


About Immix Group

At the Immix Group, we help companies of all sizes and in all industries to source and manage employer-sponsored group benefits and group savings programs. Using innovative strategies such as our proprietary broker-managed pricing pools, the transparency we provide sets the Immix Group apart.

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