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January Benefits Newsletter

By January 18, 2024February 20th, 2024Newsletters

Enhancement to Vision Care Benefit

Vision care has changed a lot through the years. You may have noticed at your last few visits to the eye doctor that quite a few tests are now part of a standard exam that were not available even ten years ago. Eye doctors screen for diseases and degeneration in addition to monitoring the sharpness of your vision.

GSI keeps abreast of changes in the medical field. Eye exams are subject to a maximum to protect the plan, but GSI’s goal is that the coverage maximum will be enough for a complete eye exam. Manulife’s “Reasonable & Customary” standard may not be enough to include what are now considered routine tests.

Recognizing this, GSI has increased the maximum.

New Maximums

Coverage is provided for charges for eye exams including refractions, when prescribed by an ophthalmologist, optometrist, or oculist:

  • $200 starting Jan 1, 2024 per 12 months for persons under age 18 
  • $200 starting Jan 1, 2024 per 24 months for person 18 and over

The previous maximum for both groups had been $170.

Lately GSI has been getting a lot of questions from Plan Members about their options with respect to benefits and pension as they retire. Since one of our Board Directors has recently retired, I thought it might be helpful to ask him to share his experience. His comments about Benefits are below; Part II of his interview will appear in the February Pension newsletter. —Lisa Thiessen, Executive Director

What Happens to Benefits at Retirement?

One Board Director's Experience

Lisa: After having worked as a parish pastor and then a seminary professor for most of your adult working life, you’ve now been retired for a year. With respect to Benefits, how far in advance did you begin working with GSI so as to ensure a smooth transition to retirement?

Gordon: Even before I was elected to the Board, I had been carefully reading the GSI website and discussing options with other colleagues who were retiring. I formally contacted Barb in the GSI office six or seven months before my planned retirement date. I found her to be very helpful and prompt in answering my questions by phone and by email as they came up.

Lisa: You sound very organized! GSI would like to know about Members’ planned retirement at least two months ahead of time, but we’re happy to answer questions earlier, as you discovered. Did the advance planning turn out to be advantageous for you?

Gordon: It did. Because I knew that the ELCIC Retiree Health Plan does not include Dental benefits, I let my dentist know a couple of years in advance that I would prefer to have upcoming required dental work completed by my retirement date. Hopefully all I will need for a while now are the annual cleanings.

Lisa: Were there any surprises?

Gordon: Yes. I was pleasantly surprised to discover my prescriptions would be covered at 100%, with no co-insurance. Since in retirement, Members bear the full cost of the premiums themselves, it’s nice to be able to pick up prescriptions at the pharmacy without having to pay anything.

Lisa: Any bad surprises?

Gordon: Not at my retirement date per se. But as I was doing my advance reading, I was sad to learn that the ELCIC Retiree Health Plan does not include Travel insurance. I understand why it doesn’t, because medical care for seniors tends to be expensive, but my wife and I would have really appreciated not having to buy separate travel insurance now that we finally have the time to travel more.

Lisa: Do you have any other advice for Plan Members who are thinking about retiring in the next couple of years?

Gordon: If you’ve been eligible to access the ELCIC’s CEP (Continuing Education Plan), use it! Be proactive in using all of your CEP funds while it is still of benefit to the congregation you are serving. Even though you can have your own unused contributions refunded, unused employer contributions are redirected to the Advanced Study Plan. Have you been thinking about engaging in one last study experience? Now is the time!

What Are My Options?

Details about Health and Life Insurance Options for Retiring Employees

Trying to navigate the various options that a retiring Plan Member has can be challenging — particularly since choices need to be made very soon after their last working day. As with Dr Jensen’s article above, this is the first in a two-part series, with the Pension options to follow in February.

Nobody is required to take any of these options. Plan Members are welcome to consult alternative insurance providers.

The advantage to using Option A presented below is that GSI transitions your active health module to the ELCIC Retiree Health Plan seamlessly (with a completed form). Not choosing one of the options that does not require a medical may affect your coverage and premiums available when you purchase retiree health insurance.

This chart summarizes the current options that are available to ELCIC Group Benefits Plan members upon retirement.

Health Benefits upon Retirement

Coverage EndsOn your last day of employment
Submitting Claims•Manulife allows 90 days to submit claims incurred up to your last day of employment
•If not converting to Option A, online access will end on your last day of employment; outstanding claims must be submitted on paper
Conversion to Individual:Three options (outlined below)
Option A:
National ELCIC
Retiree Extended Health Plan
•Offered to people age 60+ who will reside in Canada
•One-time option at end of employment (cannot choose to come on at a later date)
•No medical exam required
•No co-insurance payments
•Dental, Travel, and HCSA are not included
Option B:
Manulife FollowMe™
•Must apply and pay first premium within 90 days of your last day of work
•Four levels of coverage available, each with different premiums and benefits included (Basic, Enhanced, Enhanced Plus, Premiere)
•Dental included only with Enhanced Plus and Premiere
•Travel add-on available (maximum issue age 69; insurance terminates at age 80)
Option C:
Manulife Flexcare®
•Can be purchased at any time
•Several levels of health and dental to choose from
•Lowest level does not require a medical exam, but the higher levels do
•Basic travel insurance for trips of up to 9 days included, with $100 deductible (additional days available as an add-on)
•Travel ends at age 70

Group coverage for life insurance, short-term disability, long-term disability, and parental leave pay will end on your last day OR on your 65th birthday, whichever comes first. The life insurance benefit only has potential to convert to an individual plan.

Life Insurance upon Retirement or Turning 65

Coverage EndsOn your last day of employment
Your 65th birthday (whichever comes first)
Conversion to Individual•Life insurance benefit can be converted to individual policy within 31 days
•No medical exam required (but must note smoker status)
•Must have been a Plan Member for at least five years
Notes•No evidence of insurability will be required
•Premium will be based on Manulife Financial's then-current standard premium rates
FollowMe Option•Manulife's FollowMe also has a conversion to individual life insurance within 60 days of termination of employment
•No medical exam required (but must note smoker status )
•Premiums may be higher than the conversion option from the ELCIC Group Benefits Plan

Details about the Retiree Health Plan can be found on the GSI website, here.

Manulife’s FollowMe / FlexCare comparison chart is probably the best way to see the different benefits that come with those packages, though premiums are not listed. (With individual plans, the premiums can vary according to your age, sex, and other factors.) Be sure to select the correct province and whether you are under or over 65 when using this chart.

Strength Training for Lifelong Health

By mid-January, many of us are already struggling to achieve the ambitious goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of the New Year. It’s hard to find enough time and energy in the day to do the work required of us, take care of our families’ needs, tidy up the house, catch up with friends or reading — and also to exercise. Starting an exercise routine is particularly challenging.

It’s worth making the effort. Study after study has shown physical activity to be hugely valuable for improving mental health, reducing stress, and promoting better sleep. Life is also easier when you can pick up heavy things, run to catch a bus, and walk on ice without falling due to excellent balance.

Strength training is one component of exercise that is easy to forget about but essential for lifelong health. According to the National Library of Medicine (USA), “Muscle mass decreases approximately 3–8% per decade after the age of 30 and this rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60.”

This loss of muscle mass, strength, and function is known as sarcopenia, and it can significantly reduce quality of life as we age. Lack of strength is also strongly associated with loss of bone density; if you haven’t worked on building strong bones in your 20s and early 30s (and even if you have!), weight-bearing exercise can help prevent brittle bones in your senior years.

We can slow this loss by challenging our muscles regularly. The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology’s guidelines for maintaining health recommend a minimum of two sessions per week of strengthening activities using major muscle groups.

Lifting weights and using the strength machines at the gym are a great way to build strength quickly. However, they’re not the only way. A wide range of activities build strength:

  • body-weight exercises (such as pushups, tricep dips, and squats)
  • use of resistance bands
  • climbing, hockey, swimming, rowing
  • Pilates, yoga

You’re more likely to stick with an activity that you enjoy, so consider starting with one you do. As is always the case with wellness, diet is also important for building muscle. Eating enough protein each day is especially essential.

Even if you can only find fifteen minutes a day to exercise (alternating strength training with cardio and balance work), you should start to see improvement in a few weeks. Stay fit … feel great!

Webinar: Managing Alcohol Use

Well, we made it – happy 2024! Here’s to a fresh start with new beginnings, routines, goals, and maybe even losing momentum as mid-January rolls around. (Don’t worry, you’re not alone!)

As we welcome a new year, your list of healthy habits that you wish to build may include, among others, managing your alcohol use. Follow along this month to learn more about healthy habit-building and changing your relationship with alcohol if it’s on your to-do list.

The question addressed in the webinar is:

“I feel pressure to do Dry January because everyone around me is doing it. But I don’t think I can go a whole month without drinking alcohol. What should I do?” 

The webinar was on January 10, but the recording is available at the link below. (It will ask you to provide a name and email address to “register,” but then it takes you right to the video.)

Have a Question for GSI?

We welcome your questions and feedback!

Information and resources can also be found on the GSI website.
GSI Website:
Winnipeg Residents: 204-984-9181
Toll Free: 1-877-352-4247

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