Canadians are fortunate, compared to their neighbours south of the border, in having most of our basic medical needs taken care of by the government. Of course, we do pay for health insurance in taxes – and through monthly payments for residents of British Columbia and Alberta – but we don’t panic or hesitate due to cost when we need to see the doctor. It’s a sound long-term government strategy for keeping us healthier overall.
Unfortunately, the government doesn’t fully cover all of our medical needs. Provincial health insurance generally pays 70 per cent of hospitalization costs, for example, and we need to ante up the other 30 per cent. That’s where extended health benefits enter the picture. If you’re lucky enough to work for an employer with an extended health care plan – a plan that pays for services not covered by the government – your additional benefits help close this gap.
Extended Health Insurance BC
Extended health care plans offer a variety of benefits, generally including dental care, eyeglasses, physiotherapy and massage therapy. The benefits vary from province to province: extended health insurance BC includes reimbursement for visits to naturopathic doctors, for example.
Plan members may be assigned a set dollar amount annually for each of these services; extended health benefits BC may pay a percentage of the cost of an individual service; or they may be provided with a health care savings account and allowed to allocate the annual dollars as they see fit. Depending on the service, the funds may not kick in until the plan member has spent a set amount, or deductible, on additional healthcare services.
As an employee, you may not realize the worth of extended health benefits – unless you have worked in a field where the employer doesn’t offer them. Self-employed people, too, must pay for extended health insurance out of their own pockets or pay for the entire cost of such services. These plans are a valuable part of your overall compensation package, along with sick days and vacation time. Don’t disparage their significance – and make sure to use them!
Understanding your Extended Health Care plan
Are you even aware of the scope of your extended health care? Make it a ritual to review your extended health benefits annually to see what is available. If you don’t know, you certainly can’t take advantage of them. Note each benefit, the dollar limit available and the percentage you’ll need to pay out of pocket. Some plans cover only a percentage of certain services; others may cover more once your deductible is reached.
You may also need a prescription from your physician to take advantages of some of the services. If so, you can plan ahead; when you go for an annual checkup with your family doctor, you can request prescriptions for services you plan to use sooner, rather than later.
Using your Extended Health Benefits before they expire
Extended health benefits, like coupons, have an expiration date. They generally run for a year, whether a calendar year or a fiscal year. Once the year is over, the slate of available benefits is wiped clean and the next year’s benefits are made available. Even though you may not have used all of the benefits, you can’t carry them over from year to year.
If you had a voucher for a free flight to Hawaii that was only valid until the end of the year, would you let it expire? Unlikely! Or a coupon that gives you half-price admission to Grouse Mountain and a day of skiing? Of course not. So, why would you pass up the chance to take advantage of the full range of health benefits offered to you, especially if they can improve your health?
Physiotherapy and your Extended Health Care Plan
Many of the benefits covered by extended health care plans are also preventive services, such as physiotherapy and massage. They may not be items that immediately spring to mind, unless you are in pain. However, they aren’t tailored solely for people who are suffering, and it makes sense to take advantage of them to improve your health.
Will you fall apart if you don’t go to see a physiotherapist or get a massage? Perhaps not, but why wouldn’t you access a massage or physiotherapy that will undoubtedly improve your health and prevent problems from stress or poor posture? Many extended health insurance plan providers even allow for direct billing, which means that your physiotherapist can bill them for your services directly! So, don’t procrastinate.
After reading this column, ascertain the best-before date of your annual extended health insurance plan and list your benefits. Even if they are available on a calendar-year basis, you still have more than a month until year’s end. Why not enjoy the opportunity to tune up your body and make sure it’s operating at its peak?