Canada Life apologizes for poor public service health insurance service

Canada Life apologizes for poor public service health insurance service

Representatives from Canada Life apologized at a House of Commons committee studying its rocky transition to becoming the administrator of the country’s largest health-care plan.

Around 1.7 million federal workers, retirees and their dependents saw their insurance provider switch from Sun Life to Canada Life this past summer.

At the same time, there were changes to which services and drugs were covered under the Public Service Health Care Plan (PSHCP).

Since then, CBC News has heard hundreds of stories from people having problems with long wait times, failing to get through to an agent or being denied a claim without explanation.

Representatives of Canada Life appeared by video call before the standing committee on government operations and estimates Thursday afternoon.

“To those who had a poor service experience these past months: we are sorry,” said Ryan Weiss, Canada Life’s vice-president of national accounts.

Weiss told the committee Canada Life got far more calls than it expected during the transition.

He said the government did not spend much time discussing resourcing during the 18 months leading up to the switch, but Canada Life made estimates about call volume using data from the previous administrator, Sun Life.

Re-enrolment ‘not a standard practice’

He said one of the main reasons people called in the first two months was the government requiring members re-enrol.

He said those types of calls dropped off once they moved to automatic re-enrolment.

Conservative MPs Stephanie Kusie and Kelly Block pressed that this wasn’t a standard practice during a transition between plan administrators.

“Typically, this is not a standard practice,” Weiss said. “But again … the PSHCP is very unique.”

top of canada life building
Canada Life was given 18 months to prepare for taking over the plan on July 1, 2023. The contract includes a six month ‘transition period’ that concludes in January. (Peter Jones/Reuters)

Representatives from Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) and Public Services and Procurement Canada appeared earlier.

Marie-Chantal Girard, a senior assistant deputy minister at TBS, told the committee re-enrolment was meant to address privacy issues in transferring data from one administrator to the other — and updating information on retirements, deaths or the aging out of dependents were some of the reasons why.

“We had to make sure that we had a clean state and a base of information to implement the new plan,” Girard said. 

Transition ‘poorly done’

Conrad Namiesniowski followed the committee meeting and it felt it came short.

“I don’t think they really apologized,” said the retired colonel.

An older couple sits at a table with fall leaves visible through the window behind them.
Conrad and Janice Namiesniowski sit at their kitchen table in Ottawa’s Orléans neighbourhood. The couple says the transition was poorly done. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

His wife Janice Namiesniowski had her claim for asthma medication denied by Canada Life, even though it had been covered before. It was only after they shared their story with CBC News that they were covered.

“The transition was poorly done. The website was poorly done. They didn’t have enough people trained to answer questions,” he said.

“They tried to chew off more than they could handle.”

Call for compensation

Gord Johns, an NDP committee member, pressed government representatives on compensation for people who’ve wracked up interest charges on medication that should’ve been covered.

“Every person … that is owed money based on the plan parameters and the admissibility has been or will be made whole. They are reimbursing everything that was due, according to the plan,” Girard said.

Canada Life said it has increased staffing at its call centres and claim processing centres reducing wait times to one to three minutes and processing to just over two days. 

The company has also created avenues for plan members to escalate their claims if they’re facing emergency health or financial hardship.

Weiss said the company expects to continue to deliver that service level despite the continued high level of calls.

He said he doesn’t expect call volume to return to normal until the end of next year, given some plan changes — including mandatory generic drug substitution — were delayed to Jan. 1.

Ottawa Morning5:40Canada Life apologizes for poor public service health insurance service

Canada Life’s vice-president of national accounts appeared via video call at a parliamentary committee to answer questions about customer service complaints.