Three experts who attended the recent Congrès Collectif (Group Convention)say that no one was ready for the changes sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic. This does not mean, however, that group plans are ill-adapted, although the relevance of some forms of coverage needs to be rethought.

Moderated by Serge Therrien, President of the Insurance Journal Publishing Group, the discussion of the first part of the conference was held under the theme "Pandemic: Were plans ready to handle it?”

"No one was ready for a pandemic. But the players in our industry were able to react very quickly. The pandemic has had an accelerating effect on technology adoption and the trend will persist," says Luc Vilandré, outgoing president of TELUS Health and Payment Solutions.

Carl Laflamme, senior account executive with the Ontario Teachers Insurance Plan (OTIP) explains that "plans did what they were supposed to do - provide good protection and cover people's needs. It was unthinkable for so many people to switch to telework, and yet, within two weeks, from 80 per cent to 85 per cent of people were teleworking in customer service, claims processing, issuing and sending renewals, etc. The adaptation was truly exceptional. In fact, the plans as such were already well designed," he explains.

With the pandemic, "some guarantees have become more important than others. Take disability insurance, all those who were infected were able to receive benefits," says Martin Papillon, CEO of the firm AGA Benefit Solutions.

Contracts already included digital tools such as online quotes and claims and the drug card. "The usage rate of digital tools was high, but not 100 per cent. Participants were still submitting claims on paper," he says. The pandemic has helped convince the last holdouts.

Paramedical and dental care services have seen declines in volume, because the professionals providing these services have been forced to close their offices, Luc Vilandré added.

"Demand for the adoption of digital solutions, including virtual healthcare, has been immediate,” Vilandré points out. Employers wanted to help their employees, and insurers created alliances with partners to virtually redesign their front-line health care service offerings.

Carl Laflamme notes that in Q2 2020, insurers spent a lot of time worrying about premium payments, because "they thought they would be seeing closures at 15 per cent to 20 per cent, but it didn’t happen.”

"We had to adapt, but the guarantees were solid," he added.

Business development  

Of course, selling plans to new groups during the first months of the pandemic was not easy, says Martin Papillon. Despite the pause in sales, July was a record month for his firm. On top of that, many policyholders added coverage to existing plans.

"Clients are adapting, we hardly ever have face-to-face meetings anymore, everything is happening in digital mode. We make calls for tenders, we change insurers, we modify coverage, it’s business as usual,” he explains.

It doesn't matter how complex the group is, you can set everything up in virtual mode, but it takes more than one meeting," Papillon continues.

Luc Vilandré says that TELUS has seen an explosion in demand for virtual care, telemedicine and e-prescription. He expects these digital processes to become even more prevalent in the future.

Carl Laflamme highlights the cooperation of physicians whose patients were submitting disability claims. He also mentions requests for mental health support and adherence to treatment.