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Employers adjust benefits for delisted health services


TORONTO—A number of Ontario employers are adjusting their benefit programs as a result of the removal of certain health care services from the government health care system.

The provincial government delisted several services from its health insurance program three years ago in an effort to reduce costs and align its coverage package with other provinces. The government eliminated coverage of routine optometry exams, except for seniors and residents under 20 years old; chiropractic services; and physiotherapy for most Ontario residents.

An Aon Consulting survey conducted at the time the changes were introduced found that 48% of employers said their benefit plans would not automatically assume the costs of the delisted services, but a number of employers have chosen to assume some of the costs, said Laura Mensch, senior vp, health strategies practice leader for Aon Consulting in Toronto. "There are some employers that still have a maternal-paternal philosophy," she said.

Only 13% of unionized employers said they were bound by labor agreements to assume the costs of the delisted services, according to the Aon survey.

Responsibility for the delisted services has become a part of labor negotiations. Cooper Standard Automotive Canada Ltd., a Georgetown, Ontario-based auto parts manufacturer, agreed to pay $40 Canadian per employee toward the cost of eye exams during its last round of contract negotiations with the United Steelworkers of America Local 719.

Employers, though, are dealing with rising health care costs and have limited ability to cover all services that are delisted by the government, benefit consultants say.

There is a trend among Canadian employers to create flexible benefit plans with health spending accounts, which allow employees to choose the benefits they want and pay for them out of their accounts if they are eligible expenses within the tax guidelines, Ms. Mensch said.