SSQ launches compassion group insurance

By Alain Thériault | April 23 2014 10:00AM

SSQ Financial Group has launched a group insurance product that pays employees benefits to compensate for income lost when they must miss work to take care of a terminally ill loved one. Pilot tested by the SSQ human resources department, the product is being offered under all group insurance programs that include short-term disability coverage.Employment insurance already offers compassion benefits that replace 55% of the salary of employees who must take time off work to care for a dying loved one. “We supplement what employment insurance offers,” Carl Laflamme, senior vice-president, group insurance at SSQ, told The Insurance and Investment Journal in an interview.

A worker who takes leave to support a family member suffering from a critical Illness, whose life expectancy is 26 weeks or less, can receive employment insurance benefits for at most six weeks. “If the employee qualifies according to the employment insurance criteria, SSQ will pay the difference,” Laflamme says. Another version of the SSQ product offers to pay the full benefits, he adds, in addition to the 55 % salary replacement rate offered by employment insurance. According to the situation, the duration of SSQ’s benefits ranges from six to 35 weeks.

SSQ says it is filling a gap in employee support by targeting what he calls the sandwich generation. “Up to now, no insurer offered this type of product and people were torn between the need to take care of a loved one and feeling guilty because they needed to take time off work,” Laflamme explains. “I think that most of our competitors will copy us within two to three years.” He doesn’t anticipate that the new guarantee will dramatically inflate plan costs. “We think these situations represent about five per cent of the total cost of disability insurance within plans,” he says.

SSQ based its initiative on the results of a sociodemographic study of support needs done by Jean-Pierre Brun, professor and chair of Occupational Health and Safety Management at Laval University. The study finds that the need to balance work and helping loved ones is becoming more pronounced in society.

“As 28% of the population act as family caregivers, it is essential to offer support solutions. We know that even if employees attend work, over 87% of them must make calls during work hours,” Laflamme explains.

Enthusiastic advisors are already clamouring for a product extension, he adds. “We have people at the drawing board trying to see how to extend the offer to groups that have only the long-term disability guarantee. We launched it in Quebec, but there's nothing stopping us from offering it across Canada.” Overall, the product’s potential easily reaches 3,000 groups in Quebec, for short-term disability programs alone. It ranges up to 8,000 groups and 600,000 members Canada-wide.