Canadian employees would choose their health benefit plan over cash: Aventis

Survey points to high expectations but declining satisfaction with the health benefit plan

LAVAL, QC, May 10, 2004 – Canadian employees value their health benefit plan so much they wouldn’t trade it for cash, according to a national public opinion survey released today. In fact, on average, 72 per cent of those polled would choose their plan over annual payments of up to $8,000(1). At the same time, however, plan members are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their health benefits, pointing to the need to find ways not only to keep employees satisfied, but also healthy and productive in the long term.

For the 2004 edition of The Aventis Healthcare Survey, Ipsos-Reid polled
1,503 Canadians who are members of employee benefit plans, seeking to understand the value they place on their health benefits and the services they receive from the public healthcare system. This is the seventh annual edition of the survey.

Satisfaction with benefit plans decreasing

While Canadians place significant value on their health benefit plan, there has been a steady deterioration since 1999 in the degree to which these plans meet the evolving needs of Canadians. In fact, only 58 per cent of respondents today say their plan meets their needs “extremely well” or “very well” – down from a high of 73 per cent in 1999.

The findings point to an important link between satisfaction with the health benefit plan and overall job satisfaction. Among plan members who say they are satisfied in their job, 59 per cent say their plan meets their needs. Of those who are unsatisfied in their job, only 34 per cent say their plan meets their needs.

The survey also reveals what benefit plan members value most in their plan. It found that all aspects of the health benefit plan are important. For example, 86 per cent of respondents say life insurance is important; 94 per cent say the same about short- and long-term disability; and, almost all respondents – 98 per cent – say their drug plan is important to them.

So important is drug coverage to respondents that restricting access to medications is not an acceptable option for them. In fact, 87 per cent of plan members surveyed agree their health benefit plan should cover any prescription drug their doctor prescribes, regardless of the cost. And close to nine in 10 (87 per cent) say Canadians should have access to new medications as quickly as citizens in the U.S. The survey also found that 72 per cent of plan members do not agree with the idea of reducing health benefits as a result of increasing plan costs.

Canadian employees willing to pay more for health benefits

Employees say they are willing to pay more to ensure coverage is not diminished. In fact, 50 per cent of survey respondents would pay higher premiums to maintain their coverage if plan costs increased and their employer was either unable or unwilling to pay. A further 31 per cent are willing to pay a higher portion of the cost when they actually use medical services.

“The survey results clearly tell us that Canadians appreciate the peace of mind their health benefit plan provides,” says Jean-Fran�ois Leprince, President of Aventis Pharma Inc. “Employees view their health as very important and need to know they’re covered should a catastrophic, potentially expensive, illness strike.”

Access to care elusive for many

While expectations are high when it comes to health benefit plans, Canadian employees also expect a great deal when it comes to accessing the healthcare system. The survey found that 85 per cent of respondents believe they are entitled to the best possible healthcare, regardless of what it might cost the government.

Access to healthcare, however, such as the services of family physicians
and timely diagnostic tests, still remains elusive for many. In fact, 53 per cent of respondents say they have difficulty accessing the services available under their provincial healthcare system. This is particularly evident in Saskatchewan/Manitoba, where 62 per cent of plan members say they have difficulty accessing services, and in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, where 60 per cent and 59 per cent respectively say they have difficulty. The situation is only slightly better in Alberta, where 46 per cent say they have difficulty, and in Ontario and British Columbia, where 49 per cent and 51 per cent respectively say the same.

According to Leprince, limited access to care in many provinces can have
a great impact on quality of life and long-term health, leading to more costs to the system down the road. “People recognize that their health is the most precious thing they have. As a result, Canadians may be feeling that their health benefit plan should serve as the safety net when the public healthcare system proves inadequate.

“As employers, plan sponsors and healthcare partners, we must begin to think about health benefit plans in a different way,” he explains. “We need to consider the cost of providing comprehensive health benefit plans in the context of the longer-term value of healthier employees who stay on the job and off short- and long-term disability.”

Dealing with workplace health

The Aventis Healthcare Survey reveals that plan members are receptive to
innovative workplace wellness programs that will put them back on track to a
healthier lifestyle. In fact, the survey points to the workplace as an underutilized forum for health promotion, and disease detection and prevention programs that would lead to better health and potentially greater job satisfaction. For example:

  • 81 per cent of respondents would likely participate in a disease detection program for diabetes, hypertension and osteoporosis;
  • 78 per cent of respondents would likely use a gym membership or an on-site facility;
  • 73 per cent of respondents would likely participate in an on-site vaccination program;
  • 56 per cent of respondents would likely participate in a weight-loss program.

“The value plan members see in these types of programs suggests a level of interest that employers could draw on to develop initiatives, in partnership with other service providers, that will lead to a healthy and productive workforce,” says Leprince. “In the end, being a healthy and productive member of society is really a goal that is shared by all.”

Ipsos-Reid conducted The Aventis Healthcare Survey

with a random national sample of 1,503 primary group insurance plan members who had a medical benefit portion in their employee plan. One can say with 95 per cent certainty that the results are within +/- 2.5 percentage points of what they would have been had the entire population of Canadian group insurance plan members been polled.

To view the survey in its entirety, visit

About Aventis

Aventis Pharma Inc., the Canadian pharmaceutical business of Aventis, employs over 900 people and has its headquarters in Laval, Quebec. Other press releases from Aventis Pharma Inc. are available at

Aventis is dedicated to treating and preventing disease by discovering and developing innovative prescription drugs and human vaccines. In 2003, Aventis generated sales of (euro) 16.79 billion, invested (euro) 2.86 billion in research and development and employed approximately 69,000 people in its core business. Aventis corporate headquarters are in Strasbourg, France. For more information, please visit:

(1) Respondents were asked to choose between an annual cash amount ($2,000, $5,000 or $8,000 – tested separately) and their health benefit plan.