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The ORWP after its first quarter: How it’s gone and where it’s headed

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The Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA)’s controversial Ontario Realtor Wellness Program (ORWP) has experienced a successful first quarter since its launch this year, according to the organization.


‘A very good sign for a newly implemented program of this size and scope compared to peers across the industry’


OREA says the health and wellness benefits program has had more than 68,000 health claims and 61 travel claims, while 32 families have had life insurance coverage support in their hour of need, more than 355 general practitioner consultations have taken place (with only an eight-minute wait time) and more than 810 mental health consultations have been conducted for members.

As for how this usage stacks up against expectations, the association is pleased: “We designed a program that we knew would help our members and what we’ve seen so far is a very good sign for a newly implemented program of this size and scope compared to peers across the industry.”

The program, administered by Comprehensive Benefit Solutions, became mandatory on January 1. Tim Hudak, CEO of OREA, says it was designed to be helpful for its members and their families to give them a safety net for health benefits and insurance.

“It’s been incredible to see how many Ontario realtors are already benefitting from the support offered through the ORWP,” he notes.

“When we surveyed our members we found out that close to 60 per cent did not have any kind of health care coverage and up to 40 per cent reported they didn’t have access to life insurance. So they’re walking a tightrope every day because they love the profession, they love helping their clients, but they were putting their health and financial circumstances and those of their families at risk.”


Biggest challenge in launching


The biggest challenge in launching and implementing the program, Hudak explains, is the fact that OREA has been the first. He says implementation has been a learning process. “Things could always go smoother when it comes to implementation but given how many people have benefitted from the program already, I suspect to see other professional associations follow.”

Hudak stresses, “This has been the largest onboarding of a health and insurance program in Canada — one of the largest of the last couple of decades. Almost 100,000 members are now covered by this program. And it’s a huge program. There’s a complexity as well because we basically have 29 member boards that are 29 different corporations, all with their own sets of data and ways of doing things.”

With nearly 100,000 members, he says it was challenging to ensure everyone saw their welcome emails, could register for the system and were supplied the information needed to get the benefits. “That’s going to be a challenge for any kind of insurance program, let alone one of this size.”

He admits that with the member boards’ various approaches and data, ensuring information was accurate did cause growing pains early in the process and longer waits for service.

Despite the implementation challenges, he notes, “We’ve done it, and (individuals) in real estate and their families are now seeing the benefits.”


Good feedback and thanks from members


Hudak says OREA has received a lot of positive feedback and thanks from members because of the program, particularly from members who did not have a benefits program before. Many are also finding it to be user-friendly and a streamlined experience in getting claims approved or access to benefits.

“There have been some very touching stories of realtors with pre-existing conditions, for example, (victims of) cancer or a heart attack, who couldn’t find insurance to save their lives. Now, because of the ORWP and the support of their fellow realtors, they have a support package when it comes to health and life insurance,” he says.

With the implementation challenges smoothed out, “I’m pleased to say by investing wisely in resources for the program, our wait times are down to about three minutes when you call or within five minutes if you request a call back for support from the program.”


‘Fear-mongering’ from those opposed


Hudak notes there was a lot of fear-mongering from those opposed to the program, suggesting that thousands of realtors would have their benefits from their existing programs cut off. 

“That simply has not been the case. We’re not aware of a single realtor member who has been kicked out of their existing program because of the ORWP,” he says.

“We’re seeing more and more realtors benefitting from this program each and every day. The foundational decision to have it as an all-in program that’s a safety net for realtors — whether (they) work for a large brokerage or small, in a big city or a small town — has demonstrated to be a success.”


Positive user experiences


Lana Morgan, realtor with Royal LePage Key Realty in Sarnia, Ont., says she has advocated for the program from the beginning. Her son, who is also a realtor, suffers from epilepsy.

“For him, it was coverage that he would never, in a normal circumstance, be able to afford nor would he possibly even be able to obtain it no matter what the cost,” explains Morgan, who has not yet submitted a benefit claim.

“Myself, personally, the $100,000 in life insurance was about a third of the cost of me getting it elsewhere. I did not need dental or prescriptions because I am covered under my husband’s policy for that, but it’s everything else. At some point, I could still need that … Living in a border city, we go to the United States all the time (and) that extra coverage is nice to have.”

Kevin Thompson, a realtor with Re/Max Prime Properties Unique Group in Sarnia, says he has used the medical claims in the program for prescriptions. “And honestly we’ve had no issues. Getting things set up I struggled a little bit but that was on me,” he recalls. “The help desk that day was fabulous in walking me through it … Overall, my experience with it has been positive.

For us, it’s an added insurance. Hopefully, we never have to use it but for us it’s affordable … We welcomed the program right from the start (and have) been in full support of it since day one … It’s going to help a lot of people and for that, I’m thankful we have it.”


‘Seems to be something that people are not talking about as much’


Karen Yolevski, COO, Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd., says she hasn’t heard a lot from realtors following the ORWP’s implementation.

“Since it’s been implemented, other than a couple of administrative questions, people asking how they sign up or how they access information, submission of claims, we haven’t really heard too much,” she notes. “I’ve heard a few anecdotal stories about people successfully submitting claims and receiving benefits. So that’s great news that people are taking advantage of the plan but otherwise it seems to be something, now that it’s in effect, that people are not talking about as much.”


Program opposition continues


Despite OREA’s success with the ORWP, there continues to be opposition to the program, which costs OREA members about $660 annually for the standard plan in addition to regular OREA dues of $110.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise money for legal action. A complaint has been filed to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO). A petition was also launched about the mandatory nature of the program. 

The GoFundMe page, as of April 15, has raised $152,280 of a $350,000 goal. Those funds are supporting the legal challenge by McMillan LLP in Toronto with HRTO, alleging age and disability discrimination.


‘Ready to pursue applications at whatever pace the Tribunal sets’


Rachel Wong, associate with McMillan LLP, says the matter was brought before HRTO in November 2023, asking the Tribunal to expedite the proceeding and to provide immediate relief to realtors. 

“Both of those steps were opposed by OREA and so at this point we remain ready to pursue the applications at whatever pace the Tribunal sets for them to be heard,” Wong explains.

“There is a GoFundMe that was started in the fall of last year and if realtors wish to continue to support those steps it does remain open (to) support our effort.

We just remain at the ready to take steps that are required to get this matter to a hearing and be adjudicated. We regularly hear the frustrations of realtors and we really want to pursue those next steps.”


Petition garnered 18,890 signatures so far


Liz Polak, realtor with Century 21 Miller Real Estate in Oakville, Ont. and one of the organizers of the GoFundMe campaign, says the ORWP will adversely affect the lives of thousands of professional real estate agents and their families. “I get emails from members all the time. (They’re) literally crying about this.”

Polak says all agents over the age of 65 will have to pay the same fees for the mandatory ORWP but will receive reduced benefits in return, and that reduced benefits or outright termination of some OWRP benefits will be automatically applied at age 65, 70 or 80.

A petition against the ORWP, started in June 2023 and organized by Tina Forte, sales representative with Red and White Realty Inc. in Waterloo, has gained 18,890 signatures so far. The text accompanying it says not being a member of OREA affects a person’s ability to trade in organized real estate and that, “How OREA has the authority to meddle in a self-employed individual’s personal choices that aren’t real estate related is still baffling.”

“The fact that if we don’t participate we lose our local board affiliation, that’s bad enough because our local boards provide a whole lot of resources for us,” Forte shares. “But we also lose OREA and CREA (Canadian Real Estate Association). We lose the OREA (or) Ontario forms. We lose the realtor designation … It’s not right that they’ve tied it to our ability to do our job.”


OREA’s response


In a statement, OREA says it cannot comment on ongoing matters before the courts and/or any tribunal.

However, it mentions, “As indicated in the research findings of a member survey done in 2019, over half of OREA members reported that a ‘Safety Net’ package was very important.”

The statement also talks about the Realtor Wellness Task Force: “In February 2023, the OREA board of directors appointed the Realtor Wellness Task Force to examine the viability and scope of a province-wide insurance and benefits program for all OREA members. The Task Force was comprised of realtor volunteers from across the province, covering all OREA regions.”

OREA points out that results of a survey (available from April 28 to June 20, 2023) indicate the majority of realtors did not have the specific types of insurance coverage that are included in the ORWP’s standard plan (for example, 73 per cent of members had no critical illness insurance coverage and 60 per cent had no healthcare coverage).


Going forward, Hudak mentions that OREA will always look at the program to see if there are additional benefits they can provide, if there are benefits not being utilized and if they need to substitute a new benefit. “But we’ll need some more data before we would turn our minds to those types of enhancements,” he says.


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