June 19, 2024

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‘Incredibly shocking’: health premiums for Yukon gov’t workers to increase 52.8 per cent

4 min read

Premiums for the extended health care insurance plan that covers current and retired Yukon government employees will more than double next month — an increase that’s left some with sticker-shock. 

Former territorial gas inspector Del Young, who retired in 2013 after a more than 20-year career, was among the thousands of people who received a notice on March 14 about the 52.8-per-cent increase, which, for him, will work out to an additional $600 per year.

“It was incredibly shocking — it goes against the cost of living, it goes against just about everything you can do for seniors,” Young said in an interview. 

“Every senior’s on a fixed income … Everybody is really upset. Everybody cannot believe that they would suddenly be faced with this 50 per cent increase.”

While premiums have gone up almost every year, Young said increases have typically been under 10 per cent. The notice, he said, failed to explain why the increase was substantially larger this time, and only gave people just more than a week to decide whether to accept the increase or permanently pull out of the plan. 

“I think it’s an incredibly cold situation from the government,” he said.

“I feel betrayed and and ambushed.”

Not everyone will be hit equally by the increase. The Yukon government covers 85 per cent of premiums for most current employees and, depending on length of service, a percentage for retirees as well. 

Pushed about the issue in the Legislative Assembly last week, Sandy Silver, the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, said a joint management committee administers the plan, which includes determining benefits and setting premium rates. 

The premium increases, he said, “are not unique to the Yukon.” 

“Plan sponsors and insurers are expecting increasing claims right across the country, and this is due to a rise in usage and also inflation,” he said, later adding that “an increase in the overall benefits used, benefit coverage, costs per claim, specific costs associated with high-cost specialty drugs, vision claims, paramedic services, out-of-country expenses, and also insured administration fees” had contributed to the premium going up.

Silver also said the impact of the premium increase was “not lost on us,” with the government expecting to pay $7.6 million more because of it. 

‘This was a bit of a perfect storm’

Yukon Association of Education Professionals (YAEP) president Ted Hupé, whose members are impacted by the increase, said while no one likes increased costs, he understood the reasons. 

The plan, according to Hupé, previously had accumulated a surplus due to relatively low use, which in turn had helped temper premium increases. However, benefit usage has shot up in recent years — something Hupé attributed to both the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and baby boomers retiring and needing more health services — which both increased costs and drained the surplus.

“This was a bit of a perfect storm,” Hupé said in an interview. 

“Unless we want to see cuts, what’s happening is we’re trying to maintain the benefits package as it is and there are increased costs… Based on some of the things that we’re facing post-pandemic and demographically, these are the hard choices that the joint management committee had to make.”

Yukon Employees’ Union (YEU) president Justin Lemphers was less sympathetic, saying that he’s been “hearing a lot from both members past and present with concerns,” including some who have told him they’ve been able to find similar health coverage elsewhere at a lower cost. 

“It seems to me that perhaps there may have been another option to exercise, and that would be looking at other service providers to determine if there could have been a better option made available to people that rely on these plans,” he said. 

Lemphers also said the YEU had undertaken a “scan” to see if other jurisdictions were in the same situation. 

“The folks that are responding … are also shocked, they haven’t heard of any other plans facing this type of increase,” he said.

Lemphers said he wanted to meet with Silver to discuss the increase further, and in particular, what he said was the disproportionate impact on retired employees. He added that, of the people he’s heard from, many have told him they’ll “reluctantly” be staying with the plan. 

Young, the retired gas fitter, said he would be staying with the plan to avoid a gap in coverage — the time between getting the notice about the increase and the deadline for leaving wasn’t enough to find alternatives. However, he said he believed that there needed to be a representative for retired employees and seniors on the joint management committee to prevent a situation like this from happening again. 

He also said he thought the government needed to do a better job of explaining, directly to the people impacted, why the increase was happening. 

“It really is quite a slap in the face for seniors… it’s an abandonment of the people that have put their time in for the Government of Yukon,” Young said.

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