Using up 2022 benefits can help Canadians avoid bigger problems, costs down the road: health-care pros

As the end of the year approaches, so, too, does the deadline to use the last of 2022’s health benefits, prompting medical professionals to urge Canadians not to short themselves of care.

According to an Abacus Data survey commissioned by the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association, between nine and 36 per cent of Canadians who have health benefits never use them. The number ranged from nine to 12 per cent for prescription, dental and optometric coverage. More than a third of 3,800 people recently surveyed – 36 per cent – reported never having used their mental health coverage. 

“For some patients, it’s a cost issue,” Specsavers optometrist Dr. Richard Cowles told CTV News Edmonton. “And for other patients, a lot of patients don’t feel they have any visual needs. They see well without glasses so they don’t see the heavy symptoms and don’t come in.”

Another professional speculated the pandemic is a reason Canadians have put off care. 

“We have been finding a lot of patients have been avoiding coming to the dentist in the past two to three years,” noted Portrait Dental’s Dr. Xing Wu. “And a lot of these patients, we’ve seen a lot more problems, unfortunately.”

“I think it might be a matter of time,” added physiotherapist Sunny Deol, owner of Pursuit of Motion Physiotherapy. “Everyone has a busy work schedule. You might have kids that are in school.”

‘FEWER PROBLEMS DOWN THE ROAD’

No matter the reason, all three health professionals advocated taking advantage of available benefits, citing improved long-term health outcomes as well as savings. 

“If we maintain it, then there’s fewer problems down the road,” Wu told CTV News Edmonton. “Coming consistently will make sure that you don’t encounter a big problem. When there’s a bigger problem, the costs are higher.”

As Cowles pointed out, some eye diseases can progress without patients realizing. 

“They’re perfectly happy; they’re seeing 20-20. Meanwhile, the disease is progressing. 

“If they come in early, we can catch these things, and see early signs and get in there and treat early. [It’s] much easier to deal with these conditions early on than when we’re advanced,” he said.

According to the optometrist, children and seniors should be examined every year, while biennial exams are recommended for adults between the ages of 19 and 64. 

Wu said the average dental patient should get a cleaning and visual check every six months, but some patients require more frequent visits. 

Deol recommended taking action before pain affects daily mobility. 

“I’m guilty of that. Sometimes I let things creep up. But if we stay on top of it, then you prevent a lot of time off sport, time off playing with your grandkids and meaningful things like that,” he said. 

“We all pay into [health plans]. And you never know how good you can feel.”

Abacus Data’s survey participants who have extended benefits through a provincial plan saved, on average, more than $900 in prescription drugs, $700 on dental care, $420 on eye care, and $380 on physiotherapy. Those with employer-provided benefits reported more savings. 

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Alison MacKinnon 

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