Healthier Workplaces Help to Reduce Group Insurance Costs: Canada’s Manulife

When Canadians hit the gym, they’re not the only ones who benefit. Their insurers stand to gain as well.

“If we can have a healthier workplace it is going to decrease disability costs, it’s going to decrease general health costs and we can then offer more competitive prices,” Mike Doughty, head of Manulife Financial Corp.’s Canada business, said in a phone interview.

With that goal in mind, the insurer plans to offer its Vitality health program for the first time to employees of Canadian companies that use its group benefits, encouraging workers to adopt healthier habits in exchange for gift cards, gym discounts and other rewards starting next year. Manulife expects to have the initiative available to about 1.5 million Canadians by the end of 2019, with room for expansion later.

“It’s going to have a beneficial impact to our business because of the beneficial impact it’s having on the end customer,” Doughty said.

The program is run by Vitality Group, which serves 8 million participants in 19 countries. Manulife has been working with Vitality for almost four years, starting in the U.S. with its John Hancock Life Insurance division. It provides discount premiums to policyholders willing to track and share metrics such as daily exercise.

That treasure trove of customer data is another plus for Toronto-based Manulife, which can use the information to calculate actuarial risks more precisely as well as fine-tune the program to provide more targeted benefits.

“We’re not looking at specific individual data, but we do want to use that aggregate data to ensure that we can continue to make sure the program is effective and really meet the needs of the consumers who are using it,” Doughty said.

Manulife’s effort for the first time targets group-benefits clients — companies that use the insurer to provide health-benefits coverage for their employees — with a voluntary program that’s free to employers. It targets four lifestyle factors seen as drivers for a majority of chronic disease and preventable deaths: physical inactivity, smoking, unhealthy eating and excessive drinking.

About four out of five Canadian adults aren’t active enough, according to Statistics Canada, with only about 20 percent getting the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity a week.

Customers signing up for the initiative will do a self-assessment of their health and link fitness trackers to the program to earn points for healthy behavior. Points can be redeemed for gift cards at outlets including Inc. and, as well as discounts at Canadian health club GoodLife Fitness.