Employers need to remain vigilant on exorbitant drug costs: Empire Life VP

by David Keelaghan03 Oct 2016
Selling group insurance in Canada means you are competing with some pretty mammoth rivals. The budgets of the big three in the business mean that the smaller operators need to run a tight ship, and according to Janet Jackson of Empire Life, that’s exactly what they do.

Having started her career as an underwriter with Manulife in the early ‘80s, she has risen through the ranks and today sits as Vice-President, Group Marketing with Empire.

“We need to differentiate ourselves because Manulife, Great-West, Sun Life and the larger players all have more brand recognition,” says Jackson. “We add value by giving education and content to advisors that play in this space. We make sure we are connected to an advisor network that is aligned to the small business owner.”

Last week Life-Health Professional reported on the study released by RBC documenting the increasing prevalence of self-employed people. That trend has obvious implications for the insurance business, and the group space in particular, as Jackson outlines.

“The news about more and more people wanting to be self-employed isn’t surprising,” she says.  “Folks that are thinking about retiring, this is the perfect opportunity to say how do I transfer my expertise into something that I’m passionate about? Millennials are a group that say they want to carve their own path and be their own boss.”

This shift towards people starting their own businesses creates opportunities for firms like Empire Life that have specialized in that field. It’s a growing market and one the firm is only too happy to cultivate.

“For us at Empire, we excel at providing business solutions for the small business owner,” she says. “We go as high as 200 employees but our real sweet spot is around 20–30 employees. They don’t have big budgets or big HR departments, so they are looking for someone that is fast, easy and convenient – that’s how we build our product solutions.”

Another major issue when it comes to health plans is the rising costs of medication. That inflation means that drugs now take up a significant portion of spending totals with health plans. It’s a concern industry-wide, and Empire Life is no different.

“One of the biggest things we need to keep our eye on is the escalating drug costs,” says Jackson. “When I started in the business there were more union plans and it was all about fringe benefits. The provinces paid for a lot of health costs then employers paid for incidental expenses. It’s not incidental anymore.”

Which means employers have to be even more vigilant when it comes to their benefit packages. Should they take their eye off the ball in this respect, budgetary strain will be a guarantee.

“There are high-cost speciality drugs that can cost as much as $700,000 per year,” says Jackson. “Chronic diseases are also on the rise, with more young people than ever before suffering. Employers need to be careful when they are building a benefit plan that they truly understand the risks they are assuming.”

Related stories:
Empire Life Investments reveals new members of senior team
Health insurance implications for boom in self-employed Canadians