Employers Consider Variety of Health Benefit Offerings in Shadow of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought dramatic changes to the employment landscape over the past six months, challenging employers to keep pace with ongoing regulatory changes that have mandated additional flexibility for health benefit plans to address employee needs during this crisis.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which went into effect on March 27, 2020, altered some of the rules for employer health plans, including:

Telehealth services. High-deductible health plans with health savings accounts (HSAs) now cover telehealth services before a plan participant has met the deductible.  Normal cost sharing (e.g., co-pays) under a plan may still be required for telehealth visits.  This temporary provision will end December 31, 2021, unless extended or made permanent by Congress.

Nonprescription drugs and medical products. Health plan participants may use their HSAs, health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), or flexible spending accounts (FSAs) to purchase nonprescription drugs and medical products like masks, gloves, etc., as well as menstrual care products. These changes are permanent and retroactive to purchases made on or after January 1, 2020.

COVID-19 testing.  Cost-sharing for Coronavirus testing has been eliminated for those employees covered by fully insured and self-insured plans. This includes any services or products provided during a medical visit — in person or via telehealth — to a doctor’s office, emergency room, or urgent care center. This will continue to be in effect as long as there is a public health emergency declaration in place as proscribed by federal law.

To further meet the needs of employees without having to make drastic changes to existing health plans, employers have crafted a variety of initiatives for the following:

Open enrollment. Typically, employers would meet in-person with employees during open enrollment to review benefits. Because of COVID-19, many employers no longer have this option and have instead turned to virtual meetings – either live, pre-recorded, or a combination of both – where employees can become informed and have their questions answered. Employers have also developed online benefits information hubs as well as enrollment options for remote workers.

Telehealth services. Employers that did not offer telehealth services prior to the pandemic have found that many employees have welcomed this option for both their physical and mental health issues. Since the cost of these services is typically lower than in-person visits and are not time-constrained by office hours, telehealth is a good option for both plan sponsors and participants. Many benefit plans include an Employee Assistant Program (EAP) to assist employees with issues affecting their mental and emotional well-being; employers may need to remind their workforces about all the options available to them.

Financial support. Employees that have suffered a reduction in work hours or pay may be facing financial insecurity during the pandemic, especially if other members of the household have been furloughed or laid off. Some employers are responding to this need with financial support options like payroll advances, student loan repayment help, or emergency savings accounts. 

Having the Hall Benefits Law team of ERISA attorneys on your side means having someone you can depend on for clarification of newly enacted rules and regulations. Call our team today at 678-439-6236.

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Hall Benefits Law, LLC

HBL offers employers comprehensive legal guidance on benefits in mergers and acquisitions, Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs), executive compensation, health and welfare benefits, healthcare reform, and retirement plans. We counsel a wide spectrum of clients including small, mid-sized, and large companies, 401(k) investment advisors, health insurance brokers, accountants, attorneys, and HR consultants, just to name a few. HBL is passionate about advising clients, and we are dedicated to our mission: to provide comprehensive, personalized, and practical ERISA and benefits legal solutions that exceed client expectations.

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