New job, no benefits: Experts say get informed about health coverage options

As the amount of part-time and contract work increases in Canada, a growing number of young graduates who enter the workforce find themselves without the health benefits once enjoyed through full-time employment.

This means that the glasses, prescription drugs, and dental benefits, which were once covered through their parents’ workplace or school health plans, end when they graduate. Unless they can land a full-time job right out of university, where employers will pay for health insurance, young employees are going to need to start looking elsewhere for coverage.

Job quality in Canada is at a 25-year low, according to a recent study by CIBC Economics. The study found that between January 2014 and January 2015, self-employment rose by 1.6 per cent while secure employment only rose by 0.5 per cent. Full time jobs that were created during this time were lower quality and pay.

This means that more people are working part–time instead of full-time, an increased number are self-employed instead of with secure employment, and more are in low-wage work than any other time in the past 25 years, CIBC economist Benjamin Tal says in the study.

But while the workforce has been shifting to jobs lacking coverage, the number of young employees seeking health coverage alternatives has not increased, says certified financial planner Harvey Tribe.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t consider the need for insurance until someone they know is affected by it,” says Tribe. To him, it’s a balancing act between the cost of precaution and buying it when you need it.

“It’s like having a car and waiting to get into an accident before you get insurance,” says Tribe.

So what can new graduates do to prepare for the upcoming years outside of their parents’ coverage? Firstly, experts say to take care of lingering medical and dental issues before your coverage expires, such as wisdom teeth removal or new prescription glasses.

They also recommend speaking to someone from your university’s health services.   Some schools, like the University of Toronto, offer extensions to their student drug plans. There, graduating students can extend their health and dental insurance for 12 consecutive months.

Some non-insured workers keep an emergency fund, putting aside a portion of each paycheck in case it’s needed. Tribe says the problem with this is while it may sound good in theory; it’s hard to maintain.

There are several options available to young employees, he says, one being to join a professional association. The Chamber of Commerce has a very popular plan he says, which encourages people to join.

According to the voluntary, non-profit Canadian Life and Health Association Inc. (CLHIA), supplementary health coverage is mostly available under group insurance plans like unions, professional and alumni associations.

The Insurance Finder tool offered online by the OmbudService for Life and Health Insurance (OLHI) is also helpful. The national, independent complaint resolution and information service for consumers of Canadian life and health insurance products divides them into easily navigable categories like travel, accidents, health and dental.

Life and Health Insurance broker at Cornerstone Insurance Brydon Mees says that individual insurance packages are generally in the range of $80 to $200 a month. While this may seem pricey, Mees stresses the importance of protecting yourself while you’re young and healthy.

“It gets harder as you’re older or when you have an illness,” he says. “Options are much more inclusive at a younger age so if and when you can set aside the money for payments, you should.”