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Voluntary benefits could be tomorrow’s trend View Full Story Minimize
Posted: September 13, 2010 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Mihira Lakshman - Benefits Canada

Employers looking to reduce their risk when it comes to benefits plans should consider voluntary options, said Robyn Gray, a consultant for Strata Benefits Consulting Inc.

During a webinar organized by Benefits Canada, experts in the field discussed the merits of shifting the design of programs to include more employee-pay-all benefits. “Any employer looking to enhance its benefits programs without incurring additional costs looks to this,” Gray said.

Most plans already include some voluntary components, such as optional coverage for life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment, critical illness, even certain retirement products.

Employers are usually able to offer competitive wholesale rates, providing incentives for employees to sign up. It’s almost always cheaper to enrol through the company than it is through an individual plan.

During the economic crisis, Magna International ramped up its voluntary benefits component as a way of managing risk. The auto parts manufacturer suffered 5,000 job losses but still saw an increase of participation in voluntary benefits programs.

It’s an example of how managers must be willing to think creatively to effectively cut costs, said Wendy Jackson, program manager of Magna’s Canadian benefits.

Voluntary benefits are generally 100% employee paid, with discounted rates and little maintenance required.

They can also be an effective marketing tool for employers looking to court a picky gen Y workforce.

“When we look at the new generation that is entering the workforce, [they] are a lot more discerning in terms of what benefits their potential employers are offering them. And I think employers are going to need to do more to differentiate themselves from one another in what’s going to be a tight labour market,” Gray said.

Jackson added that voluntary programs will become more popular as the mentality of the labour force starts to shift.

“As we move forward, it’s clear that benefits are changing, economies are changing,” she said. “I think people are becoming more aware that benefits are a privilege, not a right.”

Furthermore, there is no legal obligation for an employer to offer a benefits program.

“[Sometimes] the only way to keep offering the program and keep it well rounded is that some of that push is going to have to go back to the employees to pay for it.”

Mihira Lakshman - Benefits Canada

Employers looking to reduce their risk when it comes to benefits plans should consider voluntary options, said Robyn Gray, a consultant for Strata Benefits Consulting Inc.

During a webinar organized by Benefits Canada, experts in the field discussed the merits of shifting the design of programs to include more employee-pay-all benefits. “Any employer looking to enhance its benefits programs without incurring additional costs looks to this,” Gray said.

Most plans already include some voluntary components, such as optional coverage for life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment, critical illness, even certain retirement products.

Employers are usually able to offer competitive wholesale rates, providing incentives for employees to sign up. It’s almost always cheaper to enrol through the company than it is through an individual plan.

During the economic crisis, Magna International ramped up its voluntary benefits component as a way of managing risk. The auto parts manufacturer suffered 5,000 job losses but still saw an increase of participation in voluntary benefits programs.

It’s an example of how managers must be willing to think creatively to effectively cut costs, said Wendy Jackson, program manager of Magna’s Canadian benefits.

Voluntary benefits are generally 100% employee paid, with discounted rates and little maintenance required.

They can also be an effective marketing tool for employers looking to court a picky gen Y workforce.

“When we look at the new generation that is entering the workforce, [they] are a lot more discerning in terms of what benefits their potential employers are offering them. And I think employers are going to need to do more to differentiate themselves from one another in what’s going to be a tight labour market,” Gray said.

Jackson added that voluntary programs will become more popular as the mentality of the labour force starts to shift.

“As we move forward, it’s clear that benefits are changing, economies are changing,” she said. “I think people are becoming more aware that benefits are a privilege, not a right.”

Furthermore, there is no legal obligation for an employer to offer a benefits program.

“[Sometimes] the only way to keep offering the program and keep it well rounded is that some of that push is going to have to go back to the employees to pay for it.”
Benefit plans valued more than ever View Full Story Minimize
Posted: August 03, 2010 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Jody White - Benefits Canada

The perceived value of health benefit plans amongst employees has increased as a result of recent economic volatility and higher unemployment, according to the 2010 sanofi-aventis healthcare survey.

The firm's poll of 1,508 primary holders of group health benefit plans finds that 77% of respondents say the existing economic environment has increased the value they place on their health benefit plan.

Jody White - Benefits Canada

The perceived value of health benefit plans amongst employees has increased as a result of recent economic volatility and higher unemployment, according to the 2010 sanofi-aventis healthcare survey.

The firm's poll of 1,508 primary holders of group health benefit plans finds that 77% of respondents say the existing economic environment has increased the value they place on their health benefit plan.
Manitoba Employment Standards Organ Donor Leave View Full Story Minimize
Posted: July 29, 2010 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.

Manitoba Employment Standards recently amended The Employment Standards Code introducing legislation that gives employees the formal right to take unpaid leave for the purpose of living organ and tissue donation.

Please click on the "Find More" link to view a Fact Sheet from Manitoba Employment Standards providing details of this leave.
Manitoba Employment Standards recently amended The Employment Standards Code introducing legislation that gives employees the formal right to take unpaid leave for the purpose of living organ and tissue donation.

Please click on the "Find More" link to view a Fact Sheet from Manitoba Employment Standards providing details of this leave.
Changes to Generic Drug Pricing Ontario View Full Story Minimize
Posted: June 22, 2010 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.

Effective July 1, 2010, the Ontario government will proceed with their plan to reduce the costs of generic drug prices to 25% of the equivalent brand-name drug by April 1st, 2012. Employer prescription drug programs and individuals will see the following reduction schedule:

• July 1st, 2010 – March 30th, 2011 – costs will be 50% of the equivalent brand-name drug
• April 1st, 2011 – March 30th, 2012 – costs will be 35% of the equivalent brand-name drug
• April 1st, 2012 – costs will be 25% of the equivalent brand-name drug

Industry analysis expects that employer sponsored group benefits may realize a 16% decrease in costs within 2 years. The actual effect to your program will depend on your plan design and the amount of generic drugs being purchased.

Ontario Professional Allowances:

Effective July 1, 2010, the government is phasing out the professional allowances that are paid to pharmacists by generic drug companies. As a result, it is likely there will be an increase to dispensing fees as Pharmacists try to compensate their reduced income. Even though these changes only affect the public plan in Ontario, it has prompted insurance carriers to review their reasonable and customary dispensing fee maximum for Ontario.

It is not expected to have a significant pricing impact as a result of these changes. STRATA will continue to monitor the situation and the impact to our clients.
Effective July 1, 2010, the Ontario government will proceed with their plan to reduce the costs of generic drug prices to 25% of the equivalent brand-name drug by April 1st, 2012. Employer prescription drug programs and individuals will see the following reduction schedule:

• July 1st, 2010 – March 30th, 2011 – costs will be 50% of the equivalent brand-name drug
• April 1st, 2011 – March 30th, 2012 – costs will be 35% of the equivalent brand-name drug
• April 1st, 2012 – costs will be 25% of the equivalent brand-name drug

Industry analysis expects that employer sponsored group benefits may realize a 16% decrease in costs within 2 years. The actual effect to your program will depend on your plan design and the amount of generic drugs being purchased.

Ontario Professional Allowances:

Effective July 1, 2010, the government is phasing out the professional allowances that are paid to pharmacists by generic drug companies. As a result, it is likely there will be an increase to dispensing fees as Pharmacists try to compensate their reduced income. Even though these changes only affect the public plan in Ontario, it has prompted insurance carriers to review their reasonable and customary dispensing fee maximum for Ontario.

It is not expected to have a significant pricing impact as a result of these changes. STRATA will continue to monitor the situation and the impact to our clients.
STRATA Welcomes Shirley Livingston View Full Story Minimize
Posted: May 28, 2010 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.

Glen J. Middleton, President of STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc. is pleased to announce the appointment of Shirley Livingston to the position of Consultant.
Prior to joining STRATA, she was employed as a Consultant in the Winnipeg office of a major consulting firm. Shirley has expertise in benefit plan design, cost-effective underwriting bases and renewal analysis.
STRATA is pleased to add Shirley to our team of benefit professionals and she looks forward to servicing our clients.
Shirley can be contacted at 204.928.8737 or shirleylivingston@stratabenefits.ca
Glen J. Middleton, President of STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc. is pleased to announce the appointment of Shirley Livingston to the position of Consultant.
Prior to joining STRATA, she was employed as a Consultant in the Winnipeg office of a major consulting firm. Shirley has expertise in benefit plan design, cost-effective underwriting bases and renewal analysis.
STRATA is pleased to add Shirley to our team of benefit professionals and she looks forward to servicing our clients.
Shirley can be contacted at 204.928.8737 or shirleylivingston@stratabenefits.ca
Generic drug plan innovation up to plan sponsors View Full Story Minimize
Posted: May 17, 2010 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Jody White - Benefits Canada

The current wave of prescription drug reform across Canada could result in a range of benefits for plan sponsors, but the process is still in its infancy and the outcome is far from clear. According to a panel of experts, organizations that are proactive and ready to cut a deal will fare much better than those which choose to let the government set the rules for them.

Jody White - Benefits Canada

The current wave of prescription drug reform across Canada could result in a range of benefits for plan sponsors, but the process is still in its infancy and the outcome is far from clear. According to a panel of experts, organizations that are proactive and ready to cut a deal will fare much better than those which choose to let the government set the rules for them. A recent International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans webinar entitled Law & Order: the case for drug reform in Canada featured Marc Kealey, president of ArcisRx and principal with Kealey & Associates, Inc, and Murray Gold, a partner Koskie Minsky LLP. They explained that as Canada tires of its dubious distinction of paying the highest prices in the world for generic drugs, provincial governments have taken—or will be taking—action to bring costs down. Quebec, Ontario and Alberta have either proposed or tabled drug reform legislation and British Columbia and Atlantic Canada are expected to do so shortly. The benefits of such reforms—should they be passed—are enhanced affordability for plan sponsors, clinical expertise for drug plan re‐design and analytics, and an alternative distribution process to get medications to plan members with assurances of high levels of service and cost savings. Failure of competition The reason behind Canada's astronomical generic prices, according to Gold, is that the current pricing scheme benefits pharmacies, not consumers. "Competition in the retail pharmaceutical sector does exist," he says. "However, it does not exist at the consumer level. Rather, it is pharmacies that benefit from competition between generic drug manufacturers." When a generic drug is prescribed by a physician, the pharmacist can generally fill the prescription with any one of several chemically identical generic medications. Accordingly, generic drug manufacturers compete with each other so that the pharmacist will prescribe their product, hence the rise of "professional allowances" which are currently so contentious in the Ontario debate. As a result, the price charged by the generic manufacturers to the pharmacy either remains constant or increases over time, and this price is passed on to the consumer. The Ontario government recently announced reforms to generic drug pricing for both the public Ontario Drug Benefit Program (ODBP) and for private consumers, to be implemented through amendments to regulations made under the Drug Interchangeability and Dispensing Fee Act and the Ontario Drug Benefit Act. These reforms focus on two key elements: reducing the maximum cost of the generic drug to 25% of the cost of the original brand name drug by 2014, and the elimination of professional allowances immediately for the public ODBP, and by 2014 for private consumers. The purposes of these reforms, Gold explained, are to lower generic drug prices and to focus competition on price, not professional allowances. The idea is that the generic drug that wins shelf space does so by charging a lower price to consumers. He also pointed out that some of the most important purchasers of medications are not individuals, but drug plans. Under the new drug pricing rules in Ontario, these consumers will be expected to make competition work. "If the forces of competition are now supposed to work at the level of the consumer, then the consumer has to be active," says Gold. "The consumer must be informed and intelligent. An implicit message in this legislation is that while the regulations are changing in order to assist the consumer, they are not going to do the job of the consumer." New world order So how are private drug plans going to do that? As the changes are either new or pending—depending on which jurisdiction a plan sponsor is located in—it's not quite clear. Gold's first suggestion: bargain with pharmacies. "What does that look like? It may look like a preferred pharmacy provider network. It's not a new concept, but it's an important one." In some cases, larger plans can cut deals directly with generic manufacturers, although the dispensing issue can be thwarted by pharmacy interests. For example, when Medavie Blue Cross entered into a preferred arrangement with Abbott Laboratories after the expiry of Abbott's patent for Biaxin BIC 250 and 500, the negotiated price was below that of the generic versions, resulting in the lowest cost for plan sponsors. However, the dispensing pharmacist was not included in the deal, and refused to take part, effectively killing it. Plan sponsors can learn from this by engaging in tripartite deals between the manufacturer and pharmacist to ensure everyone is happy. There are several ways for plan sponsors to exercise consumer power to control drug costs, including: • consumer education; • formulary management; • private plan negotiations with pharmacy; • private plan negotiations with pharmaceuticals; and • relationship to public formulary, government provision of medications. So what are the threats to plan sponsors? Are there any possible scenarios that might see generic drug prices rise and/or services decline? According to Kealey, the claims of impending reductions of service hours that chains such as Shoppers Drug Mart have made are simply rhetoric. "There are wild accusations flying around that the government of Ontario is going to cut local health, people won't get their drugs, people will die on the streets, dogs will live with cats, and all manner of horrible poxes will descend on the world as a result of this legislation," he said. "In 2009 in Ontario, there were only 2,000 prescriptions filled between the hours of midnight and 8 a.m., so this idea of having a 24-hour pharmacy is ridiculous as far as I'm concerned." "I've been an advocate in healthcare for a number of years and I've never seen a profession that reacts to proposals with this kind of vehemence or vitriol in advance of anything that's put in front of the legislature," he added. According to Gold, the consultation period between government and industry is over and the legislation has yet to be tabled, but the lobby is on. "It's too soon to say that the policy that was announced is in fact the same policy that will be adopted." He added that while professional allowances will definitely be banned in Ontario, so-called commercial terms will not. "According to the government, commercial terms will be regulated, but we don't know much about how regulated they'll be," he said. "You need to see what the overall package is and be sure that what disappears in a good way doesn't reappear in other forms."
Changes to Generic Drug Pricing Ontario View Full Story Minimize
Posted: May 11, 2010 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.

Effective April 7th, 2010, the Ontario government has implemented a plan to reduce the costs of generic drug prices to 25% of the equivalent brand-name drug by April 1st, 2012. Employer prescription drug programs and individuals will see the following reduction schedule:

• April 8th, 2010 – March 30th, 2011 – costs will be 50% of the equivalent brand-name drug
• April 1st, 2011 – March 30th, 2012 – costs will be 35% of the equivalent brand-name drug
• April 1st, 2012 – costs will be 25% of the equivalent brand-name drug

Industry analysis expects that employer sponsored group benefits may realize a 16% decrease in costs within 2 years. The actual effect to your program will depend on your plan design and the amount of generic drugs being purchased.

Ontario Professional Allowances:

The government is reviewing eliminating the professional allowances that are paid to pharmacists by generic drug companies. As a result, it is likely there will be an increase to dispensing fees as Pharmacists try to compensate their reduced income. Even though these changes only affect the public plan in Ontario, it has prompted insurance carriers to review their reasonable and customary dispensing fee maximum for Ontario.

It is not expected to have a significant pricing impact as a result of these changes. STRATA will continue to monitor the situation and the impact to our clients.
Effective April 7th, 2010, the Ontario government has implemented a plan to reduce the costs of generic drug prices to 25% of the equivalent brand-name drug by April 1st, 2012. Employer prescription drug programs and individuals will see the following reduction schedule:

• April 8th, 2010 – March 30th, 2011 – costs will be 50% of the equivalent brand-name drug
• April 1st, 2011 – March 30th, 2012 – costs will be 35% of the equivalent brand-name drug
• April 1st, 2012 – costs will be 25% of the equivalent brand-name drug

Industry analysis expects that employer sponsored group benefits may realize a 16% decrease in costs within 2 years. The actual effect to your program will depend on your plan design and the amount of generic drugs being purchased.

Ontario Professional Allowances:

The government is reviewing eliminating the professional allowances that are paid to pharmacists by generic drug companies. As a result, it is likely there will be an increase to dispensing fees as Pharmacists try to compensate their reduced income. Even though these changes only affect the public plan in Ontario, it has prompted insurance carriers to review their reasonable and customary dispensing fee maximum for Ontario.

It is not expected to have a significant pricing impact as a result of these changes. STRATA will continue to monitor the situation and the impact to our clients.
Changes to Generic Drug Pricing in Alberta View Full Story Minimize
Posted: May 11, 2010 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.

Effective April 1st, 2010, the Alberta government is reducing generic drug costs in order to make drug coverage more affordable for all Albertans. Currently, most generic equivalent drugs have been priced at 75% of the equivalent brand-name drug. As of April 1st, drugs listed in the provincial formulary prior to October 2009 will be reduced to 56% of the brand-name price, while drugs listed on the formulary as of or after October 2009 will be priced at 45% of the brand-name price.

To compensate pharmacies for the lower pricing, the government has implemented the following three-year transitional allowance per prescriptions less than $75 (brand-name and generic):

• $3 per prescription from April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011
• $2 per prescription from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012
• $1 per prescription from April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013

Most insurance carriers are indicating they will cover the transitional allowance under group benefits programs. However, there is still some uncertainty regarding the administration of this allowance and whether all pharmacists will apply this charge to their customers.

Industry analysis expects the reduction in the cost of generics will be offset in the first year by the new transitional allowance. The actual effect to your program will depend on your plan design and the amount of generic drugs being purchased. STRATA will continue to monitor the situation and the impact to our clients.
Effective April 1st, 2010, the Alberta government is reducing generic drug costs in order to make drug coverage more affordable for all Albertans. Currently, most generic equivalent drugs have been priced at 75% of the equivalent brand-name drug. As of April 1st, drugs listed in the provincial formulary prior to October 2009 will be reduced to 56% of the brand-name price, while drugs listed on the formulary as of or after October 2009 will be priced at 45% of the brand-name price.

To compensate pharmacies for the lower pricing, the government has implemented the following three-year transitional allowance per prescriptions less than $75 (brand-name and generic):

• $3 per prescription from April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011
• $2 per prescription from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012
• $1 per prescription from April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013

Most insurance carriers are indicating they will cover the transitional allowance under group benefits programs. However, there is still some uncertainty regarding the administration of this allowance and whether all pharmacists will apply this charge to their customers.

Industry analysis expects the reduction in the cost of generics will be offset in the first year by the new transitional allowance. The actual effect to your program will depend on your plan design and the amount of generic drugs being purchased. STRATA will continue to monitor the situation and the impact to our clients.
Saskatchewan Limits Chiropractor Coverage View Full Story Minimize
Posted: May 06, 2010 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.

Effective April 1, 2010, the Saskatchewan Government has limited chiropractor coverage paid for through Saskatchewan Health. Coverage has been eliminated for all residents with the exception of low-income individuals receiving a Supplementary or Family Health Benefits, or on the Senior's Income Plan. These two groups will be eligible for coverage up to a maximum of 12 treatments per year.

Previously, Saskatchewan Health covered a portion of the cost of chiropractic treatments for all residents, with additional coverage for those under the Supplementary Health Program. Most group benefit plans previously reimbursed the excess cost of these treatments from first visit. Effective April 1, 2010, group plans will now also cover the portion previously covered by the province. We will review the impact of this increased experience to your plan as well as the proportion of Saskatchewan employees at your next renewal and advise if any rate adjustments are necessary.

Most provinces have made changes to decrease coverage for Chiropractic treatments. Manitoba is the only remaining province that provides coverage for all residents.
Effective April 1, 2010, the Saskatchewan Government has limited chiropractor coverage paid for through Saskatchewan Health. Coverage has been eliminated for all residents with the exception of low-income individuals receiving a Supplementary or Family Health Benefits, or on the Senior's Income Plan. These two groups will be eligible for coverage up to a maximum of 12 treatments per year.

Previously, Saskatchewan Health covered a portion of the cost of chiropractic treatments for all residents, with additional coverage for those under the Supplementary Health Program. Most group benefit plans previously reimbursed the excess cost of these treatments from first visit. Effective April 1, 2010, group plans will now also cover the portion previously covered by the province. We will review the impact of this increased experience to your plan as well as the proportion of Saskatchewan employees at your next renewal and advise if any rate adjustments are necessary.

Most provinces have made changes to decrease coverage for Chiropractic treatments. Manitoba is the only remaining province that provides coverage for all residents.
Taking Snapshots of Employee Health View Full Story Minimize
Posted: April 06, 2010 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Sarah Dobson - HR Reporter

Just before Steve Scanlan stepped on a treadmill as part of a work-sponsored health-risk assessment, he was advised he should first meet with a cardiologist. Tests done earlier at the executive session revealed he had an irregular heartbeat.

Sarah Dobson - HR Reporter

Just before Steve Scanlan stepped on a treadmill as part of a work-sponsored health-risk assessment, he was advised he should first meet with a cardiologist. Tests done earlier at the executive session revealed he had an irregular heartbeat. “It’s the kind of thing they tell you, ‘Nothing to be alarmed about’ but they just told you you’ve got something abnormal and they can’t explain it,” said Scanlan, head of HR at Macquarie Canada, provider of banking, financial, advisory, investment and funds management services in Toronto. “It does make you worry a little bit... But better that than being among the three per cent (of conditions) that could be fatal if they don’t get the work done.” The $1,700, five-hour assessment included tests for heart disease, hardening and narrowing of the arteries, bone density, respiratory function, visual acuity and prostate cancer, an abdominal ultrasound, chest X-ray, fitness appraisal, blood and urine tests and nutrition evaluation. At the end, a comprehensive report showed Scanlan where he sat within his norm group. “They just go into a lot more depth and detail than you would get from your average GP,” he said. “For the average person, you’re probably going to pursue some things you wouldn’t normally because you’re getting that level of data.” Personalized health-risk assessments have been offered for years but with benefit costs continuing to rise dramatically — almost 10 per cent in 2009, according to a report from the Conference Board of Canada — more employers might start offering the service in an effort to improve the health and wellness of employees. Health insurance company Manulife certainly hopes so, as it just introduced two types of health assessments in partnership with preventive health-services firm Medisys. “One of the reasons this product has come to be is feedback from employers,” said Scott Ife, product manager, group benefits, business development, at Manulife in Toronto. “What we are seeing from employers… is a desire to improve the health of their organization, a desire to lower costs of their group benefits plan, overall health spending and things like drug and disability.” Manulife’s half-day executive medicals provide physical and mental health evaluations, lab testing and lifestyle, fitness, nutrition and stress assessments. Participants receive a report with feedback and a customized health-improvement plan. With Manulife’s Worksite Wellness program, employers can choose from a suite of worksite assessments, based on cost, depth of testing and reporting detail. Feedback is provided individually or to employee groups through a presentation. Assessments can detect early risk factors Investing in this kind of preventive program can be the first step in designing wellness programs and lets organizations identify early risk factors, said Ife. Employers can address specific topics highlighted in an aggregate of employee results through initiatives and strategies such as an employee assistance program or targeted lunch and learn. For example, if a significant portion of a workforce smokes but indicates in the personalized health assessments it is reluctant to change, an employer probably shouldn’t waste its time on a smoking-cessation program, said Leanne MacFarlane, senior director of business development at Halifax-based MHSCI, a pharmacy benefits specialist that offers health-risk assessments. On the other hand, if many employees show an interest in nutrition, that’s where the investment should go. “It guides where you want to spend your time and effort based on where people are at,” said MacFarlane. “(Employers will) look at aggregate results and be able to pinpoint areas of concern and areas of opportunity. The aggregate, more so, comes into larger organizations that actually want to create some strategy and programming around wellness as an initiative.” While having “a likely positive impact” on reducing absenteeism, disability and drug expenditures, health-risk appraisals can also help employers improve the health, productivity and engagement of employees, said Ife. “It’s a great way to get a snapshot of their health. It’s convenient, some individuals may not have a family physician or visit a physician regularly,” he said. Executives at Macquarie who have participated are pleased with the service and the fact their employer is footing the bill, said Scanlan. “It acknowledges that our people work pretty hard and they often don’t have time to take care of themselves.” The assessments don’t replace a complete checkup by a physician but “if the assessors are finding high sugars, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, things that are of a concern to them, they clearly point that out and advise people to go and follow up with their physician,” said MacFarlane. There are probably many people who lack a physician or don’t go regularly, so “this may be the most thorough health assessment they’ve had done,” she said. People are interested in staying healthy and curious to know how they’re doing. “If they are presented information in a respectful way, in an informative way that applies to them and doesn’t cloud it with a whole bunch of information that doesn’t relate to them, it catches their attention and they can document things and take action,” said Zorianna Hyworon, CEO of Winnipeg-based Infotech which offers health-risk appraisals. “If there’s a supportive environment around that, that’s magnified.” However, participation rates can be a challenge. Some organizations encourage people to take part by working the assessments into flexible dollars or premium settings in benefits. Employees are also more inclined to get involved when reassured the personal medical results are never shared with their employers, said Ife. “The participation rate is more about an organization’s culture of wellness, more about how it’s promoted within the workplace than it is about the size of the employer,” he said. Participation runs anywhere from 10 to 95 per cent, said Hyworon, but is particularly good if the assessments are done as part of benefits enrolment. “(Employers) don’t have to bribe people,” she said. “Many of our clients do not offer any incentives, it’s… really not an accepted concept but there may be team incentives or other ways of creating a buzz or creating value.” Participation rates for these appraisals “are probably the lowest of all the wellness initiatives that are out there,” said Andrew Tsoi-a-Sue, leader of the Toronto group benefits consulting practice at Eckler. “It’s just a matter of people getting off their tail and doing something… People generally don’t want to know.” Measuring ROI Also a challenge is proving the return on investment. When workers are made aware of potential health issues or risks, they will try to lower their risks and that, in turn, can result in lower drug costs and long-term disability costs — at least that’s the theory, said Tsoi-a-Sue. “But, I mean, measuring this stuff is like pulling teeth,” he said. Ideally companies start with a baseline year and try to repeat the assessments on an annual basis, to track the therapeutic profile of the benefit plans when it comes to certain drugs, said MacFarlane. “The really robust assessment piece is still sort of in its infancy, it hasn’t become that sophisticated yet, for most organizations,” she said.
Let them save, says CLHIA View Full Story Minimize
Posted: April 01, 2010 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Jody White - Benefits Canada

Canada’s insurance and health industry believes the country’s retirement system is far from broken, and that individuals simply need more incentive to save for themselves.

Jody White - Benefits Canada

Canada’s insurance and health industry believes the country’s retirement system is far from broken, and that individuals simply need more incentive to save for themselves.
Mining EAP data uncovers valuable info View Full Story Minimize
Posted: March 24, 2010 | By Shamial Sheikh

Reports help spot trends, direct resources More employers, both large and small, view an employee assistance program (EAP) as a key element in organizational planning at many levels. They’re looking at quarterly, semi-annual or annual reports from the EAP provider and uncovering valuable information on workforce demographics, social trends, potential concerns and hidden risks. More importantly, companies are using this information to target health and wellness programs to better support employees and gain the best return for health and wellness investment. These reports contain non-identifying statistical information — no data compromises the strict confidentiality guidelines to which all EAPs must adhere. The information can provide management with good insight into trends or weaknesses affecting their organization. For example, user demographics indicate who’s accessing the program — employees, family members, managers or retirees. Are they full time or part time? What language do they speak? Where are they located? For larger companies, data can be further broken down to show which divisions these individuals are with, illustrating the kind of assistance the various segments of the workforce are seeking. Reports can also relate how employees heard about the EAP services — which would indicate whether or not an organization is successfully communicating the service. Most reports state what percentage of employees asked for in-person counselling as opposed to telephone counselling and how many requested educational materials, referrals to an external advisor or consultations with EAP subject-matter experts. Organizations can also see why people are accessing the EAP. Is it because of stress? Relationship issues? Parenting concerns? Addiction problems? Financial concerns? Legal problems? Elder-care issues? Again, this information can be broken down into subcategories. A breakdown of addiction data can indicate whether the requests involve alcohol, drugs, gaming or other problem. This can be a real eye-opener for companies by revealing issues affecting employees’ productivity and health. Other data concerns outcomes. This is important because the actual issue given by a person when he calls an EAP line may not be the true issue. For example, individuals may access EAP because they feel stressed but the root cause of that stress might actually be financial, marital or work-related. Armed with this information, companies can develop and implement targeted and preventable strategies, programs and supports. Even more importantly, this data can be an integral part of a company-wide puzzle. For example, an organization might be experiencing rising medication costs and short-term disability rates that are costing money and time and negatively affecting productivity and customer service. Looking at prescription drug usage, an organization might discover a large proportion of the drug costs are due to an increasing demand for anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication. Then short-term disability leave data reveals most people cited depression as the reason for their leave. Finally, the EAP utilization reports show a high percentage of calls involve stress, depression and anxiety. With a clear picture of what’s happening, a company knows where it needs to invest wellness dollars. Not only can companies adjust corporate strategies and programs to address issues before they become critical, they can also target certain areas of business that are facing particular issues. EAP reports could show a sales force is suffering high levels of stress, warehouse staff are experiencing more workplace conflicts and an administrative team is seeking more assistance with child- and elder-care issues. And, finally, usage reports measure the success of corporate programs. Organizations with an expensive health and wellness program need to know if the campaign is effective. Quarterly EAP reports can provide that proof. If they show a dramatic spike in telephone and online usage in those specific areas, the campaign is working and the company is getting a great return on its investment. And if the reports show a corresponding drop in the need for related services after the campaign, such as counselling for depression, that’s another sign the campaign was a success. Shamial Sheikh is the Markham, Ont.-based director of business development for EAP and organizational wellness at Ceridian Canada, a provider of HR solutions including EAP and health and productivity services. He can be reached at (905) 947-7471.
Top 50 employers poised to excel in recovery View Full Story Minimize
Posted: January 05, 2010 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Jody White - Benefits Canada

For many employers, 2009 was dominated by cutting budgets and staffing costs, with a low priority on employee engagement. However, others were quietly rallying employees to the cause while simultaneously increasing the likelihood that they will stay on once the economy recovers.

Jody White - Benefits Canada

For many employers, 2009 was dominated by cutting budgets and staffing costs, with a low priority on employee engagement. However, others were quietly rallying employees to the cause while simultaneously increasing the likelihood that they will stay on once the economy recovers.
Mental health in the workplace: invention and prevention View Full Story Minimize
Posted: December 21, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Shannon Rupp - Benefits Canada

Health / Wellness

Mental health problems that are costing the Canadian economy $51 billion annually could be reduced with workplace programs that emphasize early intervention, prevention and strategies for helping employees return to work.

Shannon Rupp - Benefits Canada

Health / Wellness

Mental health problems that are costing the Canadian economy $51 billion annually could be reduced with workplace programs that emphasize early intervention, prevention and strategies for helping employees return to work.
Health Canada reclassification of over-the-counter drugs View Full Story Minimize
Posted: December 01, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Effective January 1, 2010, Health Canada will be reclassifying a large number of over-the-counter (OTC) products by removing their Drug Identification Numbers (DIN) and identifying them by a Natural Product Number (NPN). This change will guarantee Canadians have access to safe, effective, and high-quality products.

This change concludes a six-year transition that is intended to ensure Canadians are able to easily distinguish Natural Health Products from drugs. While the exact number of products affected has yet to be determined, the Natural Health Products slated for reclassification include vitamins, minerals, herbal remedies, homeopathic and traditional medicines, and smoking cessation products that are not required by law or prescription.

Products not affected by this change include life-sustaining over-the-counter products such as nitroglycerine, insulin, and diabetic supplies as well as injectible vitamins and prescription-strength vitamins.

Standard Drug Plans offered by insurance carriers limit drug coverage to products prescribed by an eligible prescriber, approved by Health Canada, or possessing a valid DIN. As such, Drug Plans that do not provide specific coverage of OTC’s, optional vitamins, and/or smoking cessation products will not be impacted. Plans offering specific coverage on these reclassified products should expect increased drug claims resulting from this amendment.

STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.

Effective January 1, 2010, Health Canada will be reclassifying a large number of over-the-counter (OTC) products by removing their Drug Identification Numbers (DIN) and identifying them by a Natural Product Number (NPN). This change will guarantee Canadians have access to safe, effective, and high-quality products.

This change concludes a six-year transition that is intended to ensure Canadians are able to easily distinguish Natural Health Products from drugs. While the exact number of products affected has yet to be determined, the Natural Health Products slated for reclassification include vitamins, minerals, herbal remedies, homeopathic and traditional medicines, and smoking cessation products that are not required by law or prescription.

Products not affected by this change include life-sustaining over-the-counter products such as nitroglycerine, insulin, and diabetic supplies as well as injectible vitamins and prescription-strength vitamins.

Standard Drug Plans offered by insurance carriers limit drug coverage to products prescribed by an eligible prescriber, approved by Health Canada, or possessing a valid DIN. As such, Drug Plans that do not provide specific coverage of OTC’s, optional vitamins, and/or smoking cessation products will not be impacted. Plans offering specific coverage on these reclassified products should expect increased drug claims resulting from this amendment.
Report on Western Canada: Not So Quiet on the Western Front View Full Story Minimize
Posted: November 09, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Glen Middleton - Benefits Canada

Health Benefits

Many western Canadian companies are struggling with increasing benefits costs as well as retention and attraction issues. Discussions flow as chief financial officers (CFOs) and HR debate the costs. The conversation at an executive planning meeting may go something like this:

Glen Middleton - Benefits Canada

Health Benefits

Many western Canadian companies are struggling with increasing benefits costs as well as retention and attraction issues. Discussions flow as chief financial officers (CFOs) and HR debate the costs. The conversation at an executive planning meeting may go something like this:
STRATA Benefits Consulting selected as one of Manitoba’s Top 25 Employers for 2010 View Full Story Minimize
Posted: November 02, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Mediacorp Canada Inc. in association with the Winnipeg Free Press.

We were recognized for promoting an innovative and collaborative environment, as well as providing an excellent workplace and comprehensive total compensation package to employees. This atmosphere and benefits package enables to company to maintain a reputation for providing excellent problem solving and strategy, and engage talented individuals personally motivated to help the organization succeed.

Mediacorp Canada Inc. in association with the Winnipeg Free Press.

We were recognized for promoting an innovative and collaborative environment, as well as providing an excellent workplace and comprehensive total compensation package to employees. This atmosphere and benefits package enables to company to maintain a reputation for providing excellent problem solving and strategy, and engage talented individuals personally motivated to help the organization succeed.
Measurement lacking in wellness programs View Full Story Minimize
Posted: October 30, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Alyssa Hodder - Benefits Canada

While more employers are offering workplace wellness initiatives, many miss the mark on gauging their impact, finds Buffett & Company’s 5th National Wellness Survey.

Alyssa Hodder - Benefits Canada

While more employers are offering workplace wellness initiatives, many miss the mark on gauging their impact, finds Buffett & Company’s 5th National Wellness Survey.
Healthcare Planning For A Pandemic: CCOHS’ Guide To Staying Safe View Full Story Minimize
Posted: October 30, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety - Benefits and Pensions Monitor

Every few decades there is a radical change in the influenza virus. This large change means many more people will be affected as they may not be immune to this disease. If a large number of people become ill, a pandemic may occur.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety - Benefits and Pensions Monitor

Every few decades there is a radical change in the influenza virus. This large change means many more people will be affected as they may not be immune to this disease. If a large number of people become ill, a pandemic may occur.
STRATA Benefits Saskatchewan Expansion View Full Story Minimize
Posted: August 14, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


STRATA Benefits Consulting is pleased to announce our expansion into Saskatchewan and that we have established an office in Saskatoon effective August 1.

Rochelle Dobni, RHU, joins STRATA as a Group Benefits Consultant and will work from our Saskatoon office. She brings 20 years of extensive experience in the Investment and Life Insurance Industry and will assist clients in developing and implementing benefit strategies that support business and human resources strategies.

STRATA Benefits Consulting is pleased to announce our expansion into Saskatchewan and that we have established an office in Saskatoon effective August 1.

Rochelle Dobni, RHU, joins STRATA as a Group Benefits Consultant and will work from our Saskatoon office. She brings 20 years of extensive experience in the Investment and Life Insurance Industry and will assist clients in developing and implementing benefit strategies that support business and human resources strategies.
STRATA Announces Strategic Alliance with SnowBird Medi-Quote View Full Story Minimize
Posted: July 05, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc. is pleased to announce their strategic alliance with Snowbird Medi-Quote. STRATA will be referring their clients’ employees and retirees to Snowbird Medi-Quote for their individual travel insurance needs.

Founded in 1992, Snowbird Medi-Quote has grown to be one of the largest independent travel brokerage firms in Canada with offices in Winnipeg and Calgary. Their experienced team of travel insurance experts has access to the entire insurance market, as well as the knowledge and expertise to find the best coverage for their clients.

For more information on Snowbird Medi-Quote, please visit their website at www.mediquote.ca.

STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc. is pleased to announce their strategic alliance with Snowbird Medi-Quote. STRATA will be referring their clients’ employees and retirees to Snowbird Medi-Quote for their individual travel insurance needs.

Founded in 1992, Snowbird Medi-Quote has grown to be one of the largest independent travel brokerage firms in Canada with offices in Winnipeg and Calgary. Their experienced team of travel insurance experts has access to the entire insurance market, as well as the knowledge and expertise to find the best coverage for their clients.

For more information on Snowbird Medi-Quote, please visit their website at www.mediquote.ca.
Ignoring insomnia costs employers billions View Full Story Minimize
Posted: June 09, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Kathleen Koster - Employee Benefit News Canada

Delaying the diagnosis and treatment of insomnia can translate into billions of dollars in health care costs, lost productivity and absenteeism, says a new research paper. The report estimates that insomnia accounts for at least $42 billion in direct and indirect health care costs each year.

Kathleen Koster - Employee Benefit News Canada

Delaying the diagnosis and treatment of insomnia can translate into billions of dollars in health care costs, lost productivity and absenteeism, says a new research paper. The report estimates that insomnia accounts for at least $42 billion in direct and indirect health care costs each year.
Proposed Changes to the Canada Pension Plan View Full Story Minimize
Posted: May 27, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Department of Finance Canada

Changes to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) were recommended by federal, provincial and territorial Ministers of Finance on May 25, 2009, as part of the regular reviews of the Plan that they are required to undertake every three years.

Department of Finance Canada

Changes to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) were recommended by federal, provincial and territorial Ministers of Finance on May 25, 2009, as part of the regular reviews of the Plan that they are required to undertake every three years.
Post-retirement benefits see more scrutiny View Full Story Minimize
Posted: May 20, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Andrea Davis - Employee Benefit News Canada

Post-retirement benefits plans are coming under more scrutiny and it’s a trend that even pre-dates the economic crisis. “The financial crisis will force sponsors to accelerate their thinking on this,” says Ken Cooke, a consultant with Towers Perrin.

Andrea Davis - Employee Benefit News Canada

Post-retirement benefits plans are coming under more scrutiny and it’s a trend that even pre-dates the economic crisis. “The financial crisis will force sponsors to accelerate their thinking on this,” says Ken Cooke, a consultant with Towers Perrin.
Private drug spend increases slowing View Full Story Minimize
Posted: May 20, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Andrea Davis - Employee Benefit News Canada

The private sector increase in drug spend per claimant for 2008 was 5% and while drug spend is up again this year, the percentage increases from year to year have been slowing, according to ESI Canada’s Drug Trend Analysis report.

Andrea Davis - Employee Benefit News Canada

The private sector increase in drug spend per claimant for 2008 was 5% and while drug spend is up again this year, the percentage increases from year to year have been slowing, according to ESI Canada’s Drug Trend Analysis report.
EAPs support employees in financial distress View Full Story Minimize
Posted: May 13, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Karen Seward - Employee Benefit News Canada

It's vitally important that organizations help their people deal with added stress arising out of the current recession, which can seriously impact productivity. According to Shepell*fgi Research Group's recent report, Financial Distress Impacts Health and Productivity, accesses for financial counselling and consultation have been rising at twice the rate of all other EAP services.

Karen Seward - Employee Benefit News Canada

It's vitally important that organizations help their people deal with added stress arising out of the current recession, which can seriously impact productivity. According to Shepell*fgi Research Group's recent report, Financial Distress Impacts Health and Productivity, accesses for financial counselling and consultation have been rising at twice the rate of all other EAP services.
Voluntary benefits come of age View Full Story Minimize
Posted: May 13, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Dustin Coté and Steve Fretwell - Employee Benefit News Canada

Voluntary benefits have had a stronger foothold in the United States, but in these difficult times they may be proactive options that can help Canadian benefit plan sponsors convert challenges into opportunities. Now more than ever, organizations are looking to manage both direct and indirect costs associated with benefit plans. For example, soft costs related to member education, plan-related communications, enrollment activities, payroll deduction coordination and ongoing maintenance can add up.

Dustin Coté and Steve Fretwell - Employee Benefit News Canada

Voluntary benefits have had a stronger foothold in the United States, but in these difficult times they may be proactive options that can help Canadian benefit plan sponsors convert challenges into opportunities. Now more than ever, organizations are looking to manage both direct and indirect costs associated with benefit plans. For example, soft costs related to member education, plan-related communications, enrollment activities, payroll deduction coordination and ongoing maintenance can add up.
Manulife adds HRA to online health portal View Full Story Minimize
Posted: May 05, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Andrea Davis - Employee Benefit News Canada

Manulife has added a new health risk assessment tool to its online health portal, Health eLinks. The HRA enables plan members to assess their risk factors through a series of interactive questions designed to deliver credible evidence-based results that have been validated by research. Plan members can use the information to create their own personalized health improvement action plan.

Andrea Davis - Employee Benefit News Canada

Manulife has added a new health risk assessment tool to its online health portal, Health eLinks. The HRA enables plan members to assess their risk factors through a series of interactive questions designed to deliver credible evidence-based results that have been validated by research. Plan members can use the information to create their own personalized health improvement action plan.
Shifting tax status of retiree health settlements View Full Story Minimize
Posted: April 28, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Sheryl Smolkin - Employee Benefit News Canada

There is a growing desire by financially-stressed plan sponsors to get liabilities off the balance sheet by terminating or settling existing open-ended retiree medical benefit promises. But recent discussions with the Canada Revenue Agency suggest that CRA is re-thinking its formerly favourable historical position that a lump sum cash settlement in lieu of future benefits is not "taxable income."

Sheryl Smolkin - Employee Benefit News Canada

There is a growing desire by financially-stressed plan sponsors to get liabilities off the balance sheet by terminating or settling existing open-ended retiree medical benefit promises. But recent discussions with the Canada Revenue Agency suggest that CRA is re-thinking its formerly favourable historical position that a lump sum cash settlement in lieu of future benefits is not "taxable income."
CLHIA launches new COB guideline View Full Story Minimize
Posted: April 27, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Andrea Davis-Employee Benefit News Canada


Coordination of benefits is generally well-understood by plan members but the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association is hoping its revised Guideline G4 and accompanying consumer brochure will help to resolve any ambiguities.

Andrea Davis-Employee Benefit News Canada


Coordination of benefits is generally well-understood by plan members but the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association is hoping its revised Guideline G4 and accompanying consumer brochure will help to resolve any ambiguities.
Private sector spending on prescription drugs grows View Full Story Minimize
Posted: April 21, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Andrea Davis - Employee Benefits News Canada

For the third consecutive year, private sector spending on prescribed drugs grew at a faster rate than that in the public sector, according to new figures released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Andrea Davis - Employee Benefits News Canada

For the third consecutive year, private sector spending on prescribed drugs grew at a faster rate than that in the public sector, according to new figures released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
Canadians forking out more cash for drugs View Full Story Minimize
Posted: April 17, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Sheryl Ibelacker - Winnipeg Free Press

Manitobans spend $836 per person, report finds

Canadians are forking out close to $30 billion a year to stock their medicine cabinets with prescription and over-the-counter medications, says an annual report on drug spending released Thursday.

Sheryl Ibelacker - Winnipeg Free Press

Manitobans spend $836 per person, report finds

Canadians are forking out close to $30 billion a year to stock their medicine cabinets with prescription and over-the-counter medications, says an annual report on drug spending released Thursday.
Wellness Programs in a Recession: Healthy Outcomes Conference 2009 View Full Story Minimize
Posted: April 16, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Cindy Mark-Benefits Canada

In an era of job cuts and tight budgets, maintaining workplace wellness programs is not only good for the health of employees, but also for the bottom line, according to the experts at the recent 8th annual Healthy Outcomes Conference in Whistler, B.C.

Cindy Mark-Benefits Canada

In an era of job cuts and tight budgets, maintaining workplace wellness programs is not only good for the health of employees, but also for the bottom line, according to the experts at the recent 8th annual Healthy Outcomes Conference in Whistler, B.C.
Wellness initiatives high priority for Top 100 companies View Full Story Minimize
Posted: April 13, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Sheryl Smolkin-Employee Benefits News Canada

A survey of management of Mediacorp's Top 100 Employers in 2008 by Medisys reveals that 77% have a wellness program in place and virtually all of the remainder are seeking to implement one.

Sheryl Smolkin-Employee Benefits News Canada

A survey of management of Mediacorp's Top 100 Employers in 2008 by Medisys reveals that 77% have a wellness program in place and virtually all of the remainder are seeking to implement one.
STRATA Receives Award from HRMAM for Excellence in Leadership View Full Story Minimize
Posted: March 20, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.

On March 12, 2009 STRATA Benefits Consulting was awarded an Excellence in Leadership Award by the Human Resource Management Association of Manitoba (HRMAM). On March 12, 2009 STRATA Benefits Consulting was awarded an Excellence in Leadership Award by the Human Resource Management Association of Manitoba (HRMAM).

We were recognized for our strategic business plan which resulted in a number of innovative improvements for the organization, our clients and employees. The business plan is ongoing and involves all employees at STRATA which helps to foster an innovative and collaborative environment of engaged individuals who are personally motivated to help the organization and its clients succeed.

HRMAM’s Excellence in Leadership Awards recognize businesses, large or small, that have successfully demonstrated leadership in human resource programs or services by creating, developing and implementing related initiatives that have resulted in significant and measurable benefits to an organization during a particular period.

STRATA is honored to be recognized by the HRMAM for this prestigious award.

Cutting back on wellness programs is ill-advised View Full Story Minimize
Posted: February 10, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Andrea Davis - Employee Benefit News Canada

As more organizations become lean and mean, they may be tempted to cut back on wellness spending, which is often still viewed as a frivolous 'nice-to-have' benefit. But that type of thinking is misguided, according to the director of health management at a leading employee assistance program provider.

Andrea Davis - Employee Benefit News Canada

As more organizations become lean and mean, they may be tempted to cut back on wellness spending, which is often still viewed as a frivolous 'nice-to-have' benefit. But that type of thinking is misguided, according to the director of health management at a leading employee assistance program provider.
Top employers top of mind for new grads View Full Story Minimize
Posted: February 06, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Andrea Davis - Employee Benefit News Canada

It pays to be on top.

A comparison between the top 100 employers in Canada, as featured in Macleans magazine, and a recent survey of university and college students reveals that several of Canada's top employers are also top of mind for new graduates — and great benefits help great companies make both lists.

Andrea Davis - Employee Benefit News Canada

It pays to be on top.

A comparison between the top 100 employers in Canada, as featured in Macleans magazine, and a recent survey of university and college students reveals that several of Canada's top employers are also top of mind for new graduates — and great benefits help great companies make both lists.
Accounting for Health View Full Story Minimize
Posted: February 06, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Dave Jones - Benefits Canada

The present and future of HCSAs and other consumer-driven healthcare products in Canada.

If your employees had a choice of where they could spend their benefit dollars, would they get more value from their plan? Plan members say yes. Studies show that allowing members to take responsibility for at least some of their spending decisions gives them the choice and control they want. Healthcare spending accounts (HCSAs) are one example.

Dave Jones - Benefits Canada

The present and future of HCSAs and other consumer-driven healthcare products in Canada.

If your employees had a choice of where they could spend their benefit dollars, would they get more value from their plan? Plan members say yes. Studies show that allowing members to take responsibility for at least some of their spending decisions gives them the choice and control they want. Healthcare spending accounts (HCSAs) are one example.
Service Upgrade View Full Story Minimize
Posted: February 06, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


April Scott-Clarke - Benefits Canada

Technology is transforming the administration of group benefits plans—­and it’s doing more than just accelerating procedures.

April Scott-Clarke - Benefits Canada

Technology is transforming the administration of group benefits plans—­and it’s doing more than just accelerating procedures.
'Hidden paycheque' is alive and well View Full Story Minimize
Posted: February 04, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Daryl-Lynn Carlson - Financial Post

Health checkups, valet services to retain key employees.

Daryl-Lynn Carlson - Financial Post

Health checkups, valet services to retain key employees.
Beyond Benefits View Full Story Minimize
Posted: January 09, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Leanne Hull and Joseph Ricciuti - Benefits Canada

As the workforce changes, employers will have to re-examine their benefits plans and workplace policies to meet the new needs of their employees.

Employers are going to have to be forward-thinking if they want to stay on the cutting edge of benefits offerings and workplace health. Here are some of the trends and innovations developing in the benefits area.

  • Work/Life Balance
  • Mental Health Focus
  • Communication and Governance
  • New Partnerships

Leanne Hull and Joseph Ricciuti - Benefits Canada

As the workforce changes, employers will have to re-examine their benefits plans and workplace policies to meet the new needs of their employees.

Employers are going to have to be forward-thinking if they want to stay on the cutting edge of benefits offerings and workplace health. Here are some of the trends and innovations developing in the benefits area.

  • Work/Life Balance
  • Mental Health Focus
  • Communication and Governance
  • New Partnerships
Not your parents' wellness program View Full Story Minimize
Posted: January 06, 2009 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Lydell C. Bridgeford - Employee Benefits News Canada

The last thing kids want to hear about is eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking more water and staying aware of their health risks - especially if their parents are saying it, too.

But to drive down health care costs, employer-sponsored wellness programs must zero in on dependents covered under the health plan. It's a tough challenge, given that employers typically don't have direct access to covered dependents.

Wellness experts say companies can get employees' spouses and other family members who are covered under the health plan on board with their wellness efforts and health philosophy by making sure that health management programs discuss childhood fitness and nutrition, and by designing incentives that reward dependent participation.

Lydell C. Bridgeford - Employee Benefits News Canada

The last thing kids want to hear about is eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking more water and staying aware of their health risks - especially if their parents are saying it, too.

But to drive down health care costs, employer-sponsored wellness programs must zero in on dependents covered under the health plan. It's a tough challenge, given that employers typically don't have direct access to covered dependents.

Wellness experts say companies can get employees' spouses and other family members who are covered under the health plan on board with their wellness efforts and health philosophy by making sure that health management programs discuss childhood fitness and nutrition, and by designing incentives that reward dependent participation.
Keeping the Millennial Generation Engaged View Full Story Minimize
Posted: December 12, 2008 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Judith Finer Freedman - Benefits Canada

Workplaces are discovering that the new Millennial generation in the workplace is tough to keep happy and tough to keep in general. Attrition rates are at an all time high as workplaces scramble to figure out the magic equation for retention of this generation.

Judith Finer Freedman - Benefits Canada

Workplaces are discovering that the new Millennial generation in the workplace is tough to keep happy and tough to keep in general. Attrition rates are at an all time high as workplaces scramble to figure out the magic equation for retention of this generation.
Alberta axes health care premiums, employers split on uses for windfall View Full Story Minimize
Posted: December 09, 2008 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Andrea Davis - Employee Benefit News Canada

Plan sponsors with employees in Alberta are split over how to respond to the province's elimination of health care premiums according to a Hewitt Associates survey.

As announced in the April 2008 provincial budget, annual premiums of $528 (single) and $1056 (family) will be discontinued January 1, 2009 due to the province's positive fiscal situation.

Employers who have been paying their employees' premiums face a choice of whether to reinvest the savings in other employee benefits or compensation programs, or to hold on to the savings.

Andrea Davis - Employee Benefit News Canada

Plan sponsors with employees in Alberta are split over how to respond to the province's elimination of health care premiums according to a Hewitt Associates survey.

As announced in the April 2008 provincial budget, annual premiums of $528 (single) and $1056 (family) will be discontinued January 1, 2009 due to the province's positive fiscal situation.

Employers who have been paying their employees' premiums face a choice of whether to reinvest the savings in other employee benefits or compensation programs, or to hold on to the savings.
Eliminating Illness in the Workplace View Full Story Minimize
Posted: December 03, 2008 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


April Scott-Clarke - Benefits Canada

The inability to concentrate, an unusual increase in errors, frequent tardiness, increased sick days and lack of enthusiasm—these are all signs of depression. In order to have a healthy workplace, managers and employers need to be aware of these signs and know what to do when their employees exhibit these behaviours.

April Scott-Clarke - Benefits Canada

The inability to concentrate, an unusual increase in errors, frequent tardiness, increased sick days and lack of enthusiasm—these are all signs of depression. In order to have a healthy workplace, managers and employers need to be aware of these signs and know what to do when their employees exhibit these behaviours.
Communicating to Plan Members in Turbulent Times View Full Story Minimize
Posted: December 03, 2008 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Jean-Daniel Côté - Benefits Canada

In the recent, financially challenging weeks, it seems like everyone has become an expert at communicating with capital accumulation plan (CAP) members. As a plan sponsor, you should know that you may ultimately be held responsible for all communications going to your members. So you need to keep a keen eye on everything going to them—including what your CAP provider may be sending.

Jean-Daniel Côté - Benefits Canada

In the recent, financially challenging weeks, it seems like everyone has become an expert at communicating with capital accumulation plan (CAP) members. As a plan sponsor, you should know that you may ultimately be held responsible for all communications going to your members. So you need to keep a keen eye on everything going to them—including what your CAP provider may be sending.
Flex and Match View Full Story Minimize
Posted: December 03, 2008 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Marg French - Benefits Canada

Flexible benefits plans are evolving to offer more choice, value and employee engagement.

Marg French - Benefits Canada

Today’s employer grapples with changes in employee needs, workforce demographics and market dynamics. This is not surprising, considering that there is a significant concentration of four distinct generations in the workplace as well as new immigrants, each with different attitudes and preferences. And, as businesses continue to globalize, they are competing for skilled workers internationally, which adds to the complexity of attracting and retaining employees. At the same time, employees strive for work/life balance and a greater say in the employment contract.
Recruiting Talent Using Pensions and Benefits View Full Story Minimize
Posted: December 03, 2008 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Craig Sebastiano - Benefits Canada

The war for talent can be hard fought and full of many challenges, but using pensions and benefits as a means to attract potential employees can help win the battle.

Craig Sebastiano - Benefits Canada

The war for talent can be hard fought and full of many challenges, but using pensions and benefits as a means to attract potential employees can help win the battle.
Eligible Health Spending Account Expenses View Full Story Minimize
Posted: November 12, 2008 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


The Income Tax Act governs the types of expenses that can be reimbursed under a Health Spending Account (HSA).

A list of the medical expenses eligible under the Act, are available on the Canada Revenue Agency website .
Tax Free Savings Account available January 2009 View Full Story Minimize
Posted: December 03, 2008 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


David Christianson - Winnipeg Free Press

By now, I'm sure you've heard of the new Tax Free Savings Account, or TFSA. These are a big deal.

We wrote about it in this column last spring, but it seemed like a good time now to review the rules and uses, as you get ready to open up your TFSA in January 2009.

That's right; in spite of all the advertising and articles you are reading about the TFSA, you cannot put money into one now. I have received a number of e-mails and phone calls from people who think they've been left out, so I thought this clarification is timely.

However, a number of financial institutions are encouraging you to open them now, so you are ready to make a deposit with them early in the new year.

David Christianson - Winnipeg Free Press

By now, I'm sure you've heard of the new Tax Free Savings Account, or TFSA. These are a big deal.

We wrote about it in this column last spring, but it seemed like a good time now to review the rules and uses, as you get ready to open up your TFSA in January 2009.

That's right; in spite of all the advertising and articles you are reading about the TFSA, you cannot put money into one now. I have received a number of e-mails and phone calls from people who think they've been left out, so I thought this clarification is timely.

However, a number of financial institutions are encouraging you to open them now, so you are ready to make a deposit with them early in the new year.
Employee Benefits for a Diverse Workforce View Full Story Minimize
Posted: December 03, 2008 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Sarah Beech - Benefits Canada

Given changing demographics, competition for talent will be stiff over the next decade and beyond—not just in this country, but around the world. Accordingly, if Canadian employers are to have a constant supply of skilled workers, they will need to find ways to attract and retain diverse groups of employees.

Benefits have not traditionally held much sway when it comes to recruiting employees, let alone convincing them to stay. Nevertheless, in a competitive environment, benefits (especially work-related benefits beyond healthcare) may begin to be more important in attracting and retaining workers. Seventy-three percent of employees who work at the organizations named to this year’s list of Canada’s 30 Best Pension and Benefits Plans agreed or strongly agreed that their benefit programs were important in their decision to stay with their employer. The average response across all employees was 59%.

Sarah Beech - Benefits Canada

Given changing demographics, competition for talent will be stiff over the next decade and beyond—not just in this country, but around the world. Accordingly, if Canadian employers are to have a constant supply of skilled workers, they will need to find ways to attract and retain diverse groups of employees.

Benefits have not traditionally held much sway when it comes to recruiting employees, let alone convincing them to stay. Nevertheless, in a competitive environment, benefits (especially work-related benefits beyond healthcare) may begin to be more important in attracting and retaining workers. Seventy-three percent of employees who work at the organizations named to this year’s list of Canada’s 30 Best Pension and Benefits Plans agreed or strongly agreed that their benefit programs were important in their decision to stay with their employer. The average response across all employees was 59%.
Vaccinating Reduces Health Care Costs View Full Story Minimize
Posted: December 03, 2008 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


McLean Robbins - Employee Benefits News Canada

Employers considering the merits of an providing flu shots at work will be interested in research that reveals patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart failure and asthma are able to reduce instances of hospitalization by obtaining influenza vaccinations.

McLean Robbins - Employee Benefits News Canada

Employers considering the merits of an providing flu shots at work will be interested in research that reveals patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart failure and asthma are able to reduce instances of hospitalization by obtaining influenza vaccinations.
Spending Smart View Full Story Minimize
Posted: December 03, 2008 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Carly Foster - Employee Benefits News Canada

Health savings account offer employer/employee flexibility

Carly Foster - Employee Benefits News Canada

Despite being part of the Canadian benefit landscape for almost 30 years, health spending accounts are enjoying a renaissance. Their flexibility and fit for businesses of all sizes and industries means HSAs offer an attractive alternative or addition to a traditional benefit plan.
Provincial Prescription Drug Coverage View Full Story Minimize
Posted: September 19, 2008 | STRATA Benefits Consulting Inc.


Provincial Prescription Drug Coverage Information and Details on the Changes to the Manitoba Pharmacare Deductible Limits.

Many Canadian Provincial and Territorial governements have implemented subsidized drug benefit programs to assist residents with the cost of prescription drugs.

Some provinces require that individuals pay a portion of their prescription drug costs to satisfy an annual deductible limit. Deductibles are based on the individual's total family income. Any drug costs above the deductible limit are covered under the Provincial Drug Program.

Benefits paid by a group health program, as well as, the individual's out of pocket costs, are used to satisfy their annual deductible (if applicable). Each insurance company sets a drug threshold limit at which point they will request proof of registration to the applicable Provincial Drug Program. Any claims submitted beyond this threshold will be delayed until receipt of registration.

In an effort to avoid any potential interruptions and delays to drug payments, we recommend that all employees apply for Provincial Drug Coverage. Many provinces and territories provide a one time enrolment option and deductibles are set annually, as coordinated with income tax sumissions.

The provincial links on the Links page of the STRATA website provide access to provincial and territorial health websites. Please visit these for further information.

Manitoba Pharmacare Deductible Increase

The Manitoba Government announced an increase to the Pharmacare Deductible Rates of approximately 5% for the April 1, 2008 to March 31, 2009 benefit year. The new rates are listed below.

As an employer who offers Health Care coverage to your employees through a group benefits program, this could mean an increase to your Prescription Drug experience. The increase will depend on your employees' current Prescription Drug usage and their total family income.

Manitoba Health provides an online Pharmacare Deductible Estimator, which is available at http://www.gov.mb.ca/health/pharmacare/estimator.html.

Manitoba Pharmacare Deductible Rates April 1, 2008 - March 31, 2009

Adjusted Total Family Income Pharmacare Deductible Rate
less than or equal to $15,000.00 2.69%
greater than $15,000.00
and less than or equal to $40,000.00
4.02%
greater than $40,000.00
and less than or equal to $75,000.00
4.63%
greater than $75,000.00 5.79%


*Adjusted Total Family Income is calculated based on the following:

- Total income is determined from line 150 on the applicant's 2006 Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) Notice of Assessment.

- Manitoba Health will add the total income to the total income of the applicant's spouse (if applicable).

- $3,000 is subtracted from this total income for one spouse and each dependant under the age of 18 years.
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