COVID-19 Impact on Business and Benefits

Posted by Matt Schwartz on Tue, Mar 24, 2020 @ 09:03 AM

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The outbreak of COVID-19 raises issues of personal and business safety, including its impact on benefits.  To address the most common, pressing issues, we have compiled actionable information to help you make business decisions, along with other helpful resources. 

As we post this on Tuesday, March 24, the situation remains fluid – decisions are still being made – so, stay tuned and feel free to contact us anytime if we can provide further support or guidance.

What impact will layoffs have on benefits?

In short, employees may retain group benefits if premiums are paid.  All insurers have confirmed that layoffs due to COVID-19 will not automatically cause a loss of coverage.  Further, none appear to consider applying for, or receiving, unemployment benefits as a factor.  “Actively at work” requirements for eligibility are being relaxed and normal guidelines to initiate COBRA/State Continuation will not apply, unless employment is terminated.  Legal guidance indicates employers may continue to pay the same (or higher) portion of premiums, but not a lesser amount.  Carriers have already begun confirming that reinstatement norms will also be adjusted when the pandemic ends so waiting periods will not apply to re-hires.  Although more details will emerge, please see these three good examples of FAQ’s from Aetna, Anthem, Humana and UnitedHealthcare, which address a range of issues.

Are there COVID-related benefit changes?

New guidance from the federal government requires health plans to consider COVID-19 testing as preventive care, thus covered at 100% in-network with no copay or deductible.  Further, these dollars will not count as "paid before a deductible" so Health Savings Accounts participants may still contribute to an HSA.  Many plans are promoting telemedicine with lower or no copays.  Again, there will be new decisions and information over time so we encourage you to access carrier COVID-19 resource and FAQ pages:

A few comments on Life and Disability coverage.  Short or Long Term Disability plans respond when an insured is unable to perform duties due to injury or illness and experiences a loss of income.  COVID-19 would be covered like any other illness, including potentially crediting a required quarantine towards the Elimination Period.  Each unique claim will be reviewed with a plan’s provisions.  With that said, all indications are that carriers do not intend to find loopholes to deny valid claims.  In short, Life policies have few exclusions and a death due to this virus would be paid as any other.

What if a business cannot pay its premiums?

Related to benefits, insurance companies have recognized that some businesses will struggle to pay premiums.  For example, from Anthem: “Currently, we have a 30 day grace period for premium payments – the auto term feature in our system is now turned off – if a client needs additional time to pay, please let us know.”  We expect others to respond similarly.  With that said and despite a willingness to be flexible, we do not expect premium abatements or delayed renewals.  In order to pay claims, insurers will manage their “business” to be viable.

What resources or support is now available?

Several good informational sites exist as support measures are emerging.  Here’s a quick list:

  • COVID-19 Resources – compilation by a UBA partner, updated daily – leaders will appreciate the Communication Tools (sample emails/content/fliers), plus organized links.
  • Fisher Phillips Legal FAQ – legal considerations by a UBA legal partner – detailed to address a range of topics: safety, remote work, benefits, leave/layoff, discrimination, etc.
  • Manage Remote Workers – from the Harvard Business Review – a basic overview of common challenges and solutions to effectively manage your (newly) remote workforce.
  • Louisville Businesses Resource Guide – compiled by Business First and updated daily – links and information on business-focused support from a growing list of organizations.
  • SBA Disaster Loan Assistance – both Indiana and Kentucky businesses have been approved to access low-interest, long-term loans for economic damage related to COVID-19.
  • Kentucky Unemployment Updates – compiled by Business First – details the procedures and contacts for businesses to manage the unemployment process and help workers.
  • Kentuckiana Works Resources – the Louisville region’s workforce development arm – if some staff may not return from layoff, consider offering as a resource for their search.
  • Small Businesses Do Good – an article by Verne Harnish (One Page Strategic Plan fame!) – if able, be mindful of the opportunities you may have to do good for our community.
  • Family First Coronavirus Response Act – new law – protects workers and helps employers provide paid sick leave, and paid family leave for school closures.  Brief summary here
  • Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act – pending – ~2 trillion-dollar package to help workers and bail out industries most impacted by COVID-19.  Brief summary here.

Our thoughts and prayers extend to all impacted by the virus and the consequences of the preventive measures.  We thank first responders and medical experts for their service.  We encourage everyone to support local businesses, restaurants and social services.  Together, we can have a meaningful impact on the future!

Please note, this information is provided for educational purposes only; it’s not intended to provide legal advice. Consult with your own attorney before taking any action.

Topics: Employee Benefits, Business Strategy