Manulife’s insurance app rewards healthy lifestyles, but also raises ‘health surveillance’ concerns

Making 10 per cent of Canadians less sedentary by 2020 would increase the national GDP by $1.6 billion, according to a study

BY Nicholas Sokic | Financial Post 

Elevators at Manulife Canada’s Toronto headquarters are now adorned with signage that reads, “the stairs go the same way.” It’s part of Manulife’s efforts to change sedentary lifestyles, as it rolls out its life insurance app to its employees and the rest of the country in partnership with Discovery Health, the South Africa-based subsidiary of the financial services group Discovery Ltd.

The Vitality app tracks your health based on several personalized physical and mental personalized assessments. Users can reach bronze, silver, gold or platinum ranking based on their own fitness goals, and win discounts and gift certificates for hotels.com, Amazon, Cineplex and Tim Horton’s, among others.

Manulife launched Vitality in the U.S. four years ago under its John Hancock Financial division, and on an individual basis in Canada in 2017. The group benefits version was launched for Manulife employees in July, which reported 50 per cent participation in its first month.

The Toronto-based insurer has now opened the group benefits program to other companies during a staggered rollout, and already counts Walmart Canada and Scotiabank as customers.

The Vitality app is used in more than 20 countries with 10 million participants. Manulife signed a global pledge with other life insurance companies to make 100 million people more active by 2025.

“About a year ago we decided to launch it in the benefits business so that’s been about developing the platform for the employer market and testing it,” said Donna Carbell, the head of group benefits at Manulife Canada.

Participation in the program is entirely optional and there are no consequences for choosing not to participate, the company notes.

“Customers can select the method, type and amount of information they share,” according to Manulife. “The information is used to encourage customer engagement with the program and reward customers for participating in healthy activities.”

Despite privacy and other concerns, getting people to move around is an uncontroversial goal. During a presentation, Manulife’s chief executive officer Mike Doughty stated that four chronic conditions — respiratory, cardiovascular, cancer and diabetes — are responsible for 60 per cent of all deaths worldwide and 85 per cent of Manulife’s group benefits claims.

The highly personalized nature of the assessments in the app result in a radically different fitness experience for each user, even accounting for pregnancy, Carbell said.

“I may be a very sedentary person who has a chronic condition and it will create a different program for me so I will achieve a gold status with a very different exercise and fitness regime than a marathon runner will,” said Carbell.

Manulife cited a study from the Conference Board of Canada saying that making 10 per cent of Canadians less sedentary by 2020 would increase the national GDP by $1.6 billion and reduce national healthcare costs by $2.6 billion.

RAND Europe, an independent research institute, conducted a study last November surveying 400,000 people in South Africa, the U.S. and the U.K. and found that people using the Vitality app in conjunction with Apple Watch saw an equivalent of 4.8 extra days — an increase of 34 per cent — of physical activity on average each month.

Still, there are some obvious apprehensions in handing over the minutiae of your health information to a third-party.

“There’s always concerns about privacy,” said Carbell. “Any info an employee keys into the system, which might be my waist circumference or body mass index, all of that is housed with Vitality. We don’t even have access to that.”

Instead, the monthly report that employers receive would only contain demographic data such as how many employees are actively using the app.

“They could, theoretically, sell the information to third-parties without any consent on the part of the subject. But (totally voluntary) means nothing,” says Ann Cavoukian, the executive director of the Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence at Ryerson University. “Most people probably haven’t even looked at who the information is shared with, what that consent means.”

Toronto-based John Wunderlich of the self-named privacy and security firm also thinks the situation is not so cut and dry.

“I think it’s hard for me to see what the value offering is for both employer and insurance provider if it isn’t employee health surveillance.”

While employee consent is required, “the pendulum is swinging” on how rigorous that consent may be, Wunderlich says. For those that don’t want to participate, the impact could be anything from increased stress or pressure to perform in an unnatural fashion.

This hypothetical situation is not beyond the pale either. Last year, a statewide West Virginia teacher’s strike was partially brought on due to the Go365, a heartrate- and step-tracking app. A US$500 hike in a teacher’s annual insurance deductible was the punishment for failing to reach a certain amount of points. The program was later abandoned.

However, Manulife counters that it’s “committed to respecting and protecting” customers’ personal information.

“We have organizational, physical and technical safeguards in place to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the data entrusted to us,” the company said.

Should you consider buying supplemental health coverage?

TARA DESCHAMPS

The Canadian Press

When Canadians seek medical attention for broken bones or emergency appendectomies, the country’s health care system allows most to head to the hospital and be looked after without the burden of a big bill.

But filling a prescription, seeing an optometrist or going to the dentist for a checkup all come with a price tag passed along to patients. While many have health insurance through employers, spouses or schools, plenty of people lack such a luxury because they are unemployed, self-employed or simply working for a company that doesn’t offer such benefits.

Jessica Moorhouse, a 33-year-old personal-finance blogger, says those without additional health care coverage should educate themselves on what is and what isn’t provided by the government to identify gaps they might need to cover.

Then, work out what kind of health expenses you typically have and calculate how much it would cost to pay cash versus paying an insurance provider for that extra health care, Moorhouse says.

People who require pricey prescriptions or a high level of medical attention not covered by the government might find signing up for a health care plan is a better value than paying out of pocket, but the opposite might be true for people who have few medical needs.

“The past few years it’s made more sense for me to just save and pay cash, but in the future as I get older or start a family, my position and needs may change,” Moorhouse says.

“Health coverage beyond what’s included in Canada’s medical system may not be necessary for everyone, so you really need to look at your situation right now and also consider what you may require in the future in terms of health care.”

If you decide that a plan is right for you, Moorhouse recommends putting aside plenty of time for research. Alternatively, you could go via a broker who will find you the best price and policy.

If you’re a university or college student, most schools will offer plans at discounted rates. Some will auto-enrol every student in the plan, but if you already have coverage, you can apply to opt-out of it and receive your money back.

When seeking quotes, Moorhouse recommends people take a peek at some of the online calculators run by health insurance companies that will provide a free quote. Sun Life Financial and Blue Cross Canada are among the dozens of businesses offering such estimates.

“In the past when I’ve asked for quotes I’ve heard $100 to $150 per month just for a basic dental and vision plan is the norm, but again, it really depends on a number of variables,” says Moorhouse.

Keep an eye on restrictions and percentages of coverage too, she says.

“Just because you’re on an insurance plan does not mean you will be covered 100 per cent for that dentist visit,” she explains. “Usually you’ll be paying your insurance premiums plus 40 to 50 per cent of the cost of going to the dentist.”

Moorhouse says if you decide to forgo a plan, put aside some money for health care expenses instead.

According to her, the best way to figure out how much to save is to calculate the costs of the services you’ll need.

“Everyone’s needs are different,” says Moorhouse. “For myself, my needs are dental cleanings twice per year and an eye exam and possibly new glasses every two years…. I don’t need any prescriptions and I don’t have any health issues.”

Once you determine what it will cost for the services you need, you should put that money in a savings account along with some extra cash for unexpected charges or changes in prices, says Moorhouse.

You should be putting automatic contributions into the savings account so it becomes part of your regular budget and so you’re never left with an empty fund, she says.

OmbudService for Life & Health Insurance introduces new CEO

The Board of Directors of Canada’s OmbudService for Life & Health Insurance (OLHI) was pleased to introduce a new CEO and Ombudsman, highlight positive achievements, and outline future growth at their Annual General Meeting in Toronto on September 19th, 2019.

On August 19th, after an exhaustive search and recruitment process conducted by the Board of Directors, Glenn O’Farrellwas appointed Chief Executive Officer and Ombudsman of OLHI. A native of St-Malachie, Québec, Glenn’s previous roles include President of Global Television Québec, President and CEO of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, and CEO of Groupe Média TFO. He is also a member of the Québec Bar and Institute of Corporate Directors. Before that, he studied economics, law, business and corporate governance at St. Francis Xavier University, Université Laval, the Johnson School of Management at Cornell University, and Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto.

One of Glenn’s mandates will be to continue with a Western expansion plan, in order to ensure that more consumers in Western Canada are aware of OLHI’s services.

“We are pleased that OLHI’s profile with the regulators and consumers continues to grow”, said Dr. Janice MacKinnon, OLHI Chair. “Support from our stakeholders has been instrumental in enhancing our profile among consumers, and with the addition of Glenn to the team, we will drive further development and continue strengthening our various stakeholder relationships”.

Additional highlights included the following:

  • Number of contacts increased by 5.9%, reaching a historic record
  • Quebec complaints are still the highest at 54.5%, Ontario remains second
  • Total number of Complaints this fiscal year reached 2,290
  • Website visits increased by 6.4%

OLHI recorded 107,164 website visitors, with just over 90,000 being new visitors. By Function, Claims and Service related complaints made up over 80% of the total volume, while By Product, this number remained relatively consistent with previous year’s data.

Following the AGM, OLHI released its 2019 Annual Report on its web site. The report presents a comprehensive overview of all the achievements, statistics and case studies from the past year and is readily available at www.olhi.ca/news-publications/annual-report/ and www.oapcanada.ca/nouvelles-et-publications/comptes-rendus-annuels/.

About the OmbudService for Life & Health Insurance
The OmbudService for Life & Health Insurance (OLHI) is Canada’s only independent complaint resolution service for consumers of Canadian life and health insurance. Canadians trust us to review their insurance complaints about life, disability, employee health benefits, travel, and insurance investment products such as annuities and segregated funds. OLHI’s free bilingual services are available to any consumer whose insurance company is an OLHI member – and, currently, 99% of Canadian life and health insurers are. OLHI also offers general information online about life and health insurance. To ensure impartiality, OLHI’s operations are overseen by the Canadian Council of Insurance Regulators (CCIR). For more information, visit www.olhi.ca and www.oapcanada.ca.

SOURCE OmbudService for Life & Health Insurance

Related Links

www.olhi.ca

OmbudService for Life & Health Insurance appoints a new Chief Executive Officer & Ombudsman

TORONTO, Aug. 13, 2019 /CNW/ – The OmbudService for Life & Health Insurance (OLHI) announced today that its Board of Directors has appointed Mr. Glenn O’Farrell as Chief Executive Officer and Ombudsman. He will assume his functions in the Toronto office on August 19, 2019.

“The Board believes that his extensive experience in management, collaborating with stakeholders and leading organizational change in this age of technology will be essential attributes in executing OLHI’s mission” said Dr. Janice MacKinnon, Chair. “We are fortunate to have someone of Glenn O’Farrell’s caliber and experience to lead OLHI.  Glenn is a skilled communicator with deep leadership capabilities and has a proven track record of execution. His vast experience with the media will help further the development of the organization and promote its services by raising consumer awareness while continuing to strengthen OLHI’s relationships with their members and various stakeholders.”

A native of St-Malachie, Québec, Glenn studied economics, law, business and corporate governance at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Université Laval in Québec City, Johnson School of Management, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.and at Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. He is a member of the Québec Bar, Canadian Bar Association and Institute of Corporate Directors. He also has served on numerous company boards of directors as well as not-for-profit corporations.

Glenn said, “I am honored and excited to lead OLHI. Its is a privilege to be part of an organization governed by a fair and valuable purpose – providing Canadian consumers an independent, cost-free forum for the resolution of their complaints about life and health insurance products. I am looking forward to share my ideas and expertise in order to help promote our services and enhance the consumer’s experience when dealing with OLHI.”

Until recently, he held the position of CEO of Groupe Média TFO. Prior to this role, Glenn served as Vice-President, Réseau Pathonic TVA, Québec City; General Counsel, Chief Regulatory Officer, Senior Vice-President at CanWest Global, Toronto; President of Global Québec, Montreal, and President & CEO of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, Ottawa.

About the OmbudService for Life & Health Insurance
The OmbudService for Life & Health Insurance (OLHI) is Canada’s only independent complaint resolution service for consumers of Canadian life and health insurance. Canadians trust us to review their insurance complaints about life, disability, employee health benefits, travel, and insurance investment products such as annuities and segregated funds. OLHI’s free bilingual services are available to any consumer whose insurance company is an OLHI member – and, currently, 99% of Canadian life and health insurers are. OLHI also offers general information online about life and health insurance. To ensure impartiality, OLHI’s operations are overseen by the Canadian Council of Insurance Regulators (CCIR). For more information, visit www.olhi.ca.

SOURCE OmbudService for Life & Health Insurance

But many couriers who’ve been injured feel the coverage isn’t enough

Read more

5 tips on avoiding big medical bills on vacation; pre existing condition a risk

By Armina Ligaya

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO _ Many Canadians are gearing up to fly to warmer climes as the March break holiday approaches, but some may return home with hefty medical bills if they don’t read the fine print on their travel insurance policy.

One key element that can lead to your insurance claim being denied is an existing medical issue, or what’s known as a pre-existing condition.

It’s a rude awakening that some Canadians have faced over the years, such as a Saskatchewan couple who found themselves on the hook for nearly US$1 million in medical bills after their insurer refused to cover an early birth while they were vacationing in Hawaii. In another case, a B.C. man went on holiday to Las Vegas with what he thought was a bad cold, but found himself in hospital facing $140,000 in medical bills, which his insurer initially refused to pay.

“It happens more frequently than you would like it to happen, and you definitely don’t want to be someone that it happens to,” said Stephen Fine, president of travel insurance agency Snowbird Advisor.

Here are some tips to help ensure you have health coverage when you travel even if you have a pre-existing condition.

1) Look at the fine print of your policy.

Whether you are using the travel insurance from your credit card, from your employer or are seeking out a policy for your trip it is important to understand what is covered. Among the key terms to look for is the company’s definition of a pre-existing condition and how that applies to your current medical status.

Travel insurance is meant to cover unexpected injuries or illnesses, said Dan Keon, vice-president of market management with Allianz Global Assistance.

“The intent isn’t for it to be a continuation of your provincial health insurance or provide coverage for conditions that you were already being treated for before you left,” he said.

Most standard policies have a “stability” clause, which refers to a defined period of time that your medical condition must be  “stable” and unchanged before you travel in order to be covered, Fine said. The period can vary between policies, from as short as seven days or as long as a year, he added. A change can be as small as an increased medication dosage or if you have had medical tests for which you are awaiting the results, Fine added.

“That is a change in your medical condition and anything resulting from that medical issue wouldn’t be covered under your policy,” he said. “And a lot of people don’t know that.”

2) Be truthful and up front about your medical status.

Signing up for travel insurance likely includes a questionnaire about your medical history, and those selling the policy may downplay the significance of those questions, such as whether you have consulted a doctor within the last 12 months, said David Share, a lawyer who specializes in insurance claims.

When a medical claim is filed, if the insurer finds some contradicting information between your answers and health records, that may be used as grounds to leave you on the hook for hospital bills.

“If they see something that was in there chest pains you didn’t disclose you have no coverage. ‘We’re denying it because you misrepresented your health’,” Share said.

3) Call the insurer to ask about your specific situation, then get things in writing.

To clarify whether you are at risk of not being covered, experts recommend calling your insurer to tell them you are travelling and to ask questions about the level of coverage in your particular situation. Once you get clarification, request a response in writing, such as in an e-mail, Share said.

“Because in the event of a claim, a phone call is not going to be worth the paper it’s written on,” he added.

4) Seek out a special insurance policy if you need to _ but be prepared to pay.

If you have had recent medical issues but are still planning to travel, there are options which have a shorter stability period, or don’t require a person’s condition to be stable at all.

The added flexibility, however, may come with a steeper price but can sometimes be cheaper, depending on the policy, said Fine.

Generally, the price will go up as the stability period is reduced, said Keon.

5) If your condition changes before you leave, update your insurer.

Even after you have purchased a policy, you are obligated to update your insurance provider on any changes to your medical condition, Fine said. If there is a significant change, the insurance company may increase the premiums or in extreme cases cancel the policy all together, he added.

“It’s better to know that ahead of time, rather than to take a chance and leave on your trip and find out after the fact.”

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