Julie Gaudry is the Senior Director of Group Insurance at RBC Insurance. Having worked at RBC for over 12 years, 4 of which were at RBC Insurance. Throughout her career, she’s built herself a strong reputation and has participated in several innovative developments for the organization. Strong leader with a passion for innovation, Julie has significantly contributed towards the growth and success at RBC Insurance.
Can you tell us a little bit about your responsibilities and tasks that you do daily?
I lead a team at RBC insurance with overall responsibility for product development and the strategic direction for RBC Insurance’s group benefits business. We deliver on our business objectives by collaborating with all of our key internal partners – sales, pricing, claims, operations, etc. – and key external partners as well. As a team, we’re focused on thought leadership and innovation in the group benefits space. We want to make sure we’re differentiating RBC Insurance through our products and services and to meet and exceed the needs of our clients.
You have been leading RBC Insurance’s group benefits business for about two years now. What are some of the initiatives that you have put in place over that time?
I struggle to name just a few of my favourite because it’s been a busy time here. But there are three, in particular, I’d like to highlight:
The first is our wellness program. We launched that in June 2018, and it’s a digital wellness program which encourages employees to lead a healthy lifestyle. What’s different about our program is that it delivers personalized messages and information to users based on their reported preferences, identified risk factors, and claims data. Another key differentiator of the solution is the progress based incentives, perks and discounts. This helps ensure we attract a broader population than just the already healthy that tend to use wellness programs.
Moreover, we also made sure that the program addressed the needs of employers. Many employers know they should implement a wellness program for their employees, but they are faced with challenges such as lack of time and budget. In fact, almost two thirds of plan sponsors want a program that includes the delivery of targeted health information to employees, but more than half are worried about the cost. Wellness programs have historically been something that comes at an additional fee above group benefits and can be timely to plan and implement if you don’t know where to begin. We addressed those challenges by including a wellness program in the cost of health coverage. The employer doesn’t need to do a whole lot – we make readily available communications and wellness challenges, and it’s automatically available to their plan members through our group benefits portal and app. Our goal is to make it easy for employers to provide a wellness program, which helps show they care about their employees and can help them retain and attract best talent.
Another key initiative was the launch of our drug compatibility testing program, also known as pharmacogenetic testing. Genetic factors can account for up to 95% of individual variations in drug response and the effectiveness rate for many common drugs is less than 60%. We introduced a two-pronged program in partnership with a company called Personalized Prescribing Inc. (PPI). The first part of the program includes providing access to the drug compatibility test at a preferred price for all of our plan members. The test is designed to examine genetic markers that indicate an individual’s likelihood to respond well or poorly to a specific drug, and then they have information to make an informed decision on their prescription drug medication with their physician. Recognizing the test is not available for all drug types, the second part of our program in partnership with PPI, is a clinical study that will evaluate the role genes play in the effectiveness of autoimmune biologic drugs. Biologic drugs are the fastest-growing drug category in terms of cost and are one of the key areas of concern for our clients. Our goals are to add to the literature and knowledge around this class of drugs and help our clients in time to better manage those costs.
The last initiative I’d like to highlight is our enhanced claims management programs. One of the reasons clients turn to RBC Insurance is because they recognize that we have the best practices when it comes to claims management. We think differently about our role in helping clients recover from illness or injury and get back to work when they are ready. Onward by Best Doctors is the first program we launched which enhanced our approach to mental health claims, the leading cause of disability claims. Through this program we are able to make sure our clients have the right information, diagnosis and are receiving the right treatment. Support includes significantly faster access to psychologists (including a series of 12 therapy sessions), recommendations from psychiatrists, and one-on-one assistance from an assigned Client Advocate who provides support throughout the program. Through this program we are able to help individuals recover faster – on average we are seeing a 5 month reduction in claim duration, which is incredibly impactful for both plan members and their employers. Now, we are taking the learning’s from this program and applying it to our second leading cause of disability, musculoskeletal disability claims, including chronic pain conditions.
How crucial is having the right group benefits program for employees when it comes to the success and growth of a business?
Group benefits are something employees will undoubtedly look for from their employer, and research indicates that it is one of the key factors they will evaluate when selecting an employer they want to work for and stay with. A small business owner and entrepreneur may not provide group benefits for their employees at first. So as their business grows and they look to attract talent, they have to start thinking about how they will provide those benefits to their employees. Moreover, they also need to think about what that plan should look like if they are going to enter into the group benefits space. There is a lot of choice in the market today and small business owners should think about what kinds of products or services will be important to their employees.
Today’s workforce is increasingly diverse, with multiple generations and attitudes towards benefits. Employers need to consider those differing views and healthcare needs as they make group benefits decisions. So it’s essential to get advice and work with a group benefits provider that can help you design the plan that will meet your needs over time.
What are some of the concerns or struggles faced by entrepreneurs or SME business owners in implementing group benefits?
If you are a small or medium sized business owner, you likely don’t have a sizeable in-house HR team and you are likely wearing multiple hats and having to do many different functions. Therefore, designing and implementing a group benefits program is not an easy task. First and foremost, you need to consider what your employees need and want, and then select a solution that meets those needs. The other factor is cost. It is an expense, and there’s a perception by some business owners that implementing group benefits is something that they can’t afford to do. But there are ways to design a program that can meet the needs of your employees and on an affordable basis. It’s important to get good advice from experts in the industry who can help you design the right program for your employees and then help you find the right insurance carrier for that program.
What are the benefits that RBC Insurance provides to SME owners that can help them overcome these challenges and make group benefits available to their employees?
In addition to having the flexibility to provide a program that meets their needs, we understand the challenges faced by small and mid-sized companies. In fact, when RBC Insurance launched Group Benefit Solutions in 2013, we ensured our products and services would address the needs of those business owners and their employees. One of the ways in which we do that is our service model. Regardless of company size, you will have an assigned Group Service Representative at RBC Insurance that’s there to be the face of RBC Insurance to that client. Whether it’s administrative questions, a claim issue, whatever it might be, they are there to help answer questions and help educate the employer and employees. And we don’t differentiate by case size; we make that model available to all of our clients.
Another way we support SME owners is by addressing their concerns with cost. As part of our group benefits package, we include access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a second opinion medical service, support with healthcare navigation and our digital wellness program at no additional cost. We also provide an HR Support Centre, which provides free online access to ready-to-use HR policies and templates, information on employment standards legislation, and other support for HR practices, to help them in managing their business.
For those companies with group benefits already in place, what are some of the most common concerns that business owners have regarding group benefits?
Two of the biggest concerns we hear about from our clients and the advisors who support them are the rapid rise in prescription drug costs and the prevalence of depression and anxiety and other mental health conditions among their employee populations. These are two of the important drivers of the claims experience under a group benefits plan.
Prescription drugs cost Canadian group benefits plans over $9.9 billion in 2018 and are expected to continue to rise due to an increase in the use of opioids, expensive biologic drugs and specialty drugs to treat chronic conditions. Our goal is to deliver high quality and comprehensive coverage for plan members, with innovative claims management policies to help employers save on drug costs. Our Preferred Pharmacy Network for Speciality Drugs for example, provides discounted pricing on speciality drugs, and adherence and support services to plan members, helping them work through the process of obtaining and then taking drugs often prescribed for serious medical conditions. Other examples include our narcotics policies which help ensure the effective use and not overuse and abuse of another critical class of claims, and our drug compatibility testing program mentioned earlier. It’s important for us as the insurer to help our clients understand what’s driving the claims experience on the prescription drug plan and then to have programs in place to address those trends.
I also mentioned plan member mental health as a concern of business owners’. Mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, are the leading cause of disability claims. And, the medications taken by plan members with those conditions can also be a significant driver of the prescription drug costs. As mentioned we have programs available such as Onward by Best Doctors to help assist our plan members while they are on claim for mental health conditions. But it’s also important for employers to provide health and wellness support for employees who are still at work. RBC Insurance makes it easy for SME owners to do that, with our EAP, second opinion medical and wellness programs available at no additional cost. Through these programs, employees have access to counselling, referrals to community support, educational articles and videos, wellness challenges, targeted tips and advice, and much more. And, we are always exploring other options and new solutions we can implement to support the health of our plan members
You have been with RBC for about 12 years: four years with RBC Insurance and eight years in HR for RBC. Throughout your career at RBC, what are some of the experiences that have stayed with you and helped you in the current role?
Prior to joining RBC Insurance in 2014, I was with Human Resources at RBC for eight years. For most of my time spent in HR, I was responsible for our group benefits plan for employees and retirees in Canada as well as our wellness program globally. My accountabilities included design, financial management, and communication, for our group benefits and wellness programs for employees. Because of that experience, I’m keenly aware of the challenges faced by employers in overseeing and running a benefits program and I also came to understand many of the challenges our employees face as it relates to group benefits and leading a healthy lifestyle. I’m able to lean on that experience as I now lead our group business and I can’t help but always think about the client experience because I was on the client side for eight years. That experience helps inform our strategic focus as a business, and the service enhancements, new products and features we implement to help the lives of our clients – both employers and their employees.
Before joining RBC, you were in clinical practice as a chiropractor for some time. How has your experience in the healthcare industry influenced how you lead the group benefits at RBC Insurance?
In 2006, I was hired by RBC to help design and implement an employee wellness strategy. In 2006, there weren’t too many employers who were thinking about that but RBC was progressive and recognized the importance of a robust wellness program for their employees. I was hired because of my experience in healthcare, and specifically my holistic view of health. When I was practicing chiropractic, one of my favourite parts of the job was one-on-one counselling and the advice that I was able to provide to help patients recover from their injuries and lead a healthier lifestyle. When RBC hired me, it was a fantastic opportunity to take that passion from helping people one-on-one to helping people on a one-to-many basis because we are such a large employer. My experience in clinical practice made me acutely aware of the most common challenges faced by Canadians as it relates to leading a healthy lifestyle: exercising more regularly, eating healthy, and the struggles they face from a mental health perspective. I was able to lean on that experience as we designed our benefits and wellness programs for our employees at RBC, and that experience continues to influence the direction we take at RBC Insurance in providing meaningful group benefits programs to our clients.