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Ontario realtors face mandatory health benefits program: What you need to know

 It may be news to some Ontario realtors that the province’s real estate association is proposing to implement a mandatory insurance and benefits program for its members that could be approved in just a few days.

The Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) assembly, made up of representatives from member boards, will hold a special meeting on Jun. 20 to vote on the Ontario Realtor Wellness Program (ORWP), which, if approved, will take effect Jan. 1, 2024. 

The proposed standard plan can be viewed by members on OREA’s website. The association has had a task force looking into the viability of the program for the past few months. 

OREA president Tania Artenosi sent a message and video to local boards a while back explaining that the program would be the first of its kind in North America. Surveys have indicated to OREA that far too many of its members currently don’t have private health insurance and that a safety net is a top desire, Artenosi notes. 

“We know this is moving at a rapid rate. But we don’t want to wait any longer to offer our members the support they need.”


What does the plan include?


If the plan is approved, it will be available to all members in the province. No medical test or questionnaire will be required to determine eligibility to participate. “That’s big,” states Artenosi in the video. Members with a pre-existing medical condition won’t get a payout for that under critical illness insurance but will be eligible for other aspects of the standard plan, including drug coverage for their condition.

The program will include life insurance; critical illness insurance; out-of-country emergency medical travel insurance; and accidental death and dismemberment insurance. There’s also a member and family assistance program that provides virtual mental health support, along with healthcare coverage, including prescription drugs capped at $750, paramedical services (chiropractor, massage, and several others) capped at $750, and medical supplies capped at $500.


How much will it cost?


The cost per member is expected to be about $660 annually.  

Additional options for dental, vision, and more will be available for members looking for enhanced coverage at their own expense. Realtor family members and board association and brokerage staff apparently will be able to enroll in the program at an additional cost if they wish. 

Now here comes the rub.

“Offering a plan of this calibre at such a low cost requires the buying power of 96,000 members, meaning if approved, the ORWP standard plan will be mandatory for all OREA members, and all OREA members will pay the same, regardless of age,” Artenosi continues in her video message.


No opt-out provision for members


If the plan is approved, annual dues will increase to cover the cost and participating will be a condition of OREA membership. Even for those who already have coverage through another provider, an opt-out provision will not be available (at least not at this point). 

This isn’t an issue for some members. “I’m single. I’d be very happy to have benefits. I’m excited about it. I hope it goes through,” says Orangeville agent Nancy Urekar, who’s with Coldwell Banker and has been in the business for six years. 

But others have concerns on many levels.

“I am furious that OREA thinks they can force health insurance on me,” says Kitchener-based Royal LePage agent Sabine Nassar. She believes that an optional package could be of value to some members but feels that making the insurance mandatory is outrageous, particularly as many people already have benefits, whether on their own or through a spouse or other family member. 

That includes her. “Do I really need more?” she asks. “We pay so many dues already.”


Reduced benefits for those 65+


And she’s a senior, so it’s a potential double whammy. The concern is that for those 65 and over, some benefits will be reduced. “Yet I’ll have to pay the same annual fee as my younger colleagues,” observes Nassar.

Her board — the Waterloo Region Association of Realtors (WRAR) — conducted its own internal survey to get member feedback on the proposed insurance, as reportedly did various others. 

Along with the mandatory piece, which seems to be the biggest stumbling block all around (that message came through “loud and clear,” according to the WRAR survey), one of the issues unearthed by the Waterloo board was that many members felt they didn’t have enough information to make an informed decision.

While WRAR commends OREA for wanting to help realtors in a meaningful way and finds that the plan “offers good value” for those who need it, the association says it cannot support it in its current form.


“Forcing all members to participate regardless of their needs in order to make it more affordable to the minority who do want it is problematic.”  

– WRAR report


“This is an adjunct benefit of a membership of independent contractors that has nothing to do with the business of trading in real estate,” notes the WRAR report. “Forcing all members to participate regardless of their needs in order to make it more affordable to the minority who do want it is problematic.”  

WRAR would support “deferring a decision until OREA can do a more extensive member engagement to better assess the implementation requirements,” but doubts this will happen. The organization suspects that the Jun. 20 vote may be a “fait accompli” with the results already pre-determined due to the fact that the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) holds a preponderance of votes, effectively rendering it “an oligarch.”

We’re doing this for the dual self-employed family who has fallen on hard times, the cancer survivor, and the realtor who needs mental health support to make it through the day.”

– Stacey Evoy, OREA past president & ORWP co-chair


TRREB and a handful of other associations already offer members an insurance program, WRAR report points out. The Ontario Realtor Wellness Program would be a logical fit for these boards, WRAR notes, “since it most likely expands on the coverage provided to their members while offloading the program from those boards to OREA.”  

OREA did not address these specific concerns when questioned by Real Estate Magazine but sent a release from OREA’s past president and ORWP co-chair, Stacey Evoy, concluding with, “This new member benefit will change lives. That’s why we’re doing this. We’re doing this for the dual self-employed family who has fallen on hard times, the cancer survivor, and the realtor who needs mental health support to make it through the day.”