This last month Benefits Canada asked the question, “Is massage therapy in employee benefits worthwhile?”
The question comes up frequently as many benefits plan sponsors are being pressured to deal with rising drug costs and forced to find other places to reduce benefits costs. Is a massage therapy something that benefits plan sponsors can no longer afford to cover?
In this blog post we will explore three topics related to massage therapy and employee benefits:
- What employees are likely to use massage therapy and why
- Whether massage therapy is a necessary employee benefit
- The value of massage therapy as a way to deal with workplace stress
What plan members are using massage therapy and what are their reasons?
- Massage therapy services are popular among teenagers and younger, healthier plan members.
- 43% of plan members have submitted at least one claim for massage therapy in the past year, according to a 2016 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey.
- 50% of those who use massage therapy report the main reason is for treating a diagnosed or self-diagnosed injury.
- 38% of those who use massage therapy report the main reason is for relaxation or relieving tension.
Is massage therapy a necessary employee benefit?
In trying to answer this question, Benefits Canada provides several expert opinions:
Barbara Martinez, Practice Leader for Benefits Solutions and Group Benefits at Great-West Life Assurance Co.
Barbara explains that many advisory boards are questioning the value of massage therapy because it falls outside of the traditional definition of medically necessary, yet so many younger employees are opting to use it.
Peter Gove, Innovation Leader of Health Management at Green Shield Canada
Peter states, “Other interventions show much stronger medical evidence, yet are not covered.” According to the Sanofi study mentioned above, there is little scientific evidence backing the positive effects of massage therapy.
Chris Bonnett, Principal at H3 Consulting
Chris argues that massage therapy is a, “Valued benefit for significant segments of the population.”
Art Babcock, Senior Vice-President at Aon Hewitt
Art urges employers to create a strategic benefits plan to measure objectives and results when it comes to the benefits. He argues that without this level of accountability it’s, “Open season on benefits that to do not meet the traditional definition of ‘medically necessary’.”
The 2016 Sanofi study took a look at how massage therapy benefits and usage have changed in the last five years. The 2011 study predicted massage therapy as one of the fastest growing employee benefits. However, in 2016 83% of employee benefits plans were offering coverage for paramedical services like massage therapy but only 49% of members used the service.
Employees seek relaxation through massage therapy – is this a bad thing?
In the 2016 Sanofi Canada Healthcare survey mentioned above, 38% of respondents expressed a desire to relax and relieve tension and 40% said that the workplace negatively affects their ability to manage stress. Is massage therapy in your employee benefits plan a good way to encourage your employees to relax and destress?
Anne Nicoll, Vice President of Business Development at Medavie Blue Cross seems to think so: “So here we have plan members telling us that they’re using their plan to help them relax. Is that not a good thing?”
Does your employee benefits plan include massage therapy and are your employees using this to their advantage?
If you aren’t sure or if you need to set up a cost-effective benefits plan in your workplace for the first time, please email Benefit Strategies in Edmonton, Alberta or call us at 780-306-0806. We’d be happy to go over your options!