We have updated the "Insurance and employee benefit considerations" section of this article, and we will continue to make updates as new information becomes available.
This article was co-authored by Nick Mahlberg, Employee Benefits Senior Account Executive, and Eric Nuytten, SVP, Regional Employee Benefits Practice Group Leader.
While the headlines about COVID-19 may be alarming, employers can be proactive by taking a calm and practical approach to mitigate and respond to the unique risks the pandemic continues to pose to their organizations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued interim guidance to help employers respond to COVID-19. Employers should be prepared to prevent infection from entering and spreading in their organizations as well as to answer employee questions about the organization’s readiness plan and how their health plan coverage and other employee benefits will address their needs during this pandemic.
According to the CDC, COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), and through respiratory droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It may also be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
The CDC’s interim guidance recommends the following:
Employers can consider taking additional measures to minimize their employees’ potential exposure to COVID-19, such as:
Refer to the CDC website for additional information and guidance. Employers can also refer to state and local health departments for specific guidance pertaining to the states in which the employer operates.
There are common questions that HR managers and leaders should be ready and able to answer related to employee benefits coverage and preventing potential surprises.
On March 18, the president signed a new federal law that includes important coverage changes related to COVID-19. The law states that for the duration of the COVID-19 national emergency, cost-sharing responsibilities typically applicable to health plan members, such as deductibles, co-pays, etc., is waived for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and office visits, urgent care, and ER visits affiliated with the diagnostic testing. This change is applicable to all fully-insured and self-funded group health plans, including high deductible health plans (HDHPs) with health savings accounts (HSAs), Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, and individual health insurance coverage. Other medically necessary care related to COVID-19 beyond the diagnostic testing would be covered like a normal illness, and typical cost-sharing would apply. Employer plan sponsors can encourage individuals to confirm coverage with the insurance carrier; the terms of the certificate of coverage or summary plan description (SPD) will ultimately determine how services are covered.
The definition of “disability” under group disability benefits is typically based upon an employee’s medical inability to work due to a covered accident or illness. Insurance carriers are taking a wide range of positions related to COVID-19 illnesses for short term disability benefits. Carriers are often following standard claim procedures which require a covered employee to be medically diagnosed with a condition (i.e. COVID-19) and have a doctor attest to the employee’s inability to perform the duties of their job due to the condition. However, since COVID-19 testing is currently limited to those with the most essential need for testing (i.e. healthcare workers, nursing home/group home residents, the hospitalized), some carriers have expanded coverage duration (i.e. up to 14 days) if the employee is unable to work due to having symptoms consistent with a COVID-19 diagnosis without a formal diagnosis. Disability insurance carrier coverage positions continue to change. Employers should contact their ABRC service team or short-term disability carrier to get the latest information on how COVID-19-related claims are being handled.
There are additional compliance considerations employers should take into account if employees are unable to work due to COVID-19. Refer to COVID-19: Employment law and human resources, or Layoffs and furloughs: Best practices and compliance considerations for guidance on benefits and wage and hour issues.
Childcare coverage benefits
In the event health or school officials decide to close schools and daycare, employees with young children will need to find alternative care. Employees will need to use their PTO or limit work hours to supervise and care for children. Employers may choose to leverage or provide additional benefits or support to help accommodate school and daycare closures.
Employee assistance program
To support the emotional toll of uncertainties related to an impending or actual epidemic, employers can leverage an existing employee assistance program (EAP). EAP services connect employees and eligible family members to professional counselors and services to help resolve a broad range of personal concerns affecting emotional health, family life, and work life. It’s critical that employees and other EAP users understand the services available and how to access them, especially at a time of crisis or need. Consider sharing a reminder with employees of this resource as uncertainties and volatility related to COVID-19 continue.
It is important to remain informed with the rapid changes related to COVID-19. Employers should closely monitor the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) websites for the latest and most accurate information on COVID-19. Employers with questions about their current benefits as they relate to COVID-19 can contact us.
Employers with additional questions and concerns can access new and updated articles and resources from our COVID-19 Resources page or register for an upcoming Ask Associated: Critical Topics Related to COVID-19 webinar.
Anna is responsible for creating tailored, client-specific solutions supporting the overall health of employee populations. She is passionate about assisting large- and mid-sized employers to manage increasing plan costs, improve health outcomes and promote healthy and engaged employee populations.
Anna is responsible for creating tailored, client-specific solutions supporting the overall health of employee populations. She is passionate about assisting large- and mid-sized employers to manage increasing plan costs, improve health outcomes and promote healthy and engaged employee populations with broadbased and state-of-the-art interventions. Anna’s specialties include strategic health management consulting, care management and coordination, program management, provider relations, clinical performance improvement, promotion of health and wellness programs and population health management.
Risk management and human resources are traditionally two different job functions, and the people in these areas have rarely crossed paths — but that is changing.
Why are these people starting to work together more frequently?
Foth Companies, headquartered in Green Bay, Wis., understands the link between the company’s success and the well-being of its employees. Implementing a wellness program called “Workin’ Well” featuring health risk assessments (HRAs) is one way the company is demonstrating its commitment to employees.
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