According to HealthDay News, a study covering millions of children age 17 and younger showed that overall visits to pediatricians in the U.S. fell by 14% from 2008 to 2016, with sick visits dropping by 24%. At the same time, however, well-child preventive visits increased by 10%. Researchers mention increasing out-of-pocket costs and the increased availability of urgent care clinics as possible reasons for the change. A professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine reminds us that while deductibles, copays and co-insurance costs related to sick visits have continued to rise, a growing number of health plans provide 100% coverage for well-child visits.
In mid-March when Discover Financial Services made the decision to put safety first, it meant quickly devising a plan to move 8,000 call center agents from their cubicles in 4 different regional facilities to their homes. Infrastructure services and customer service teams worked 24/7 to develop work-from-home kits consisting of monitors, keyboards and cables, then arranged drive-thru operations at each location, enabling agents to easily transfer the equipment to their cars. In all, 1,900 agents per day were equipped and ready to work off-site. And if that wasn’t challenging enough, Discover’s largest call center in Utah was forced to cope with a 5.7 magnitude earthquake.
While few companies have to mobilize thousands of workers in just a few days, businesses large and small have been forced to establish a plan, communicate it effectively and go remote during the coronavirus outbreak. Experts say communication is key to maintaining positive morale while still getting the job done. A few best practices may include:
- When possible, adopt a beginning and an end date to the arrangement or adhere to a state or locally mandated stay-at-home order, making adjustments if needed.
- Depending on normal work styles, try to establish consistent work hours, including times when people should be around their desks or be available to collaborate with their teams.
- Take advantage of the flexibility a remote arrangement can provide. Trust and safety should yield greater peace of mind and empower people to get the job done with minimal supervision.
While many Discover employees were accustomed to working remotely, it will be new to many businesses. Many will find that for employees in appropriate positions, working remotely can increase both employee engagement, workplace productivity and job satisfaction.
When President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act into law in mid-March, employers with fewer than 500 employees became responsible for providing paid leave to certain employees through Dec. 31, 2020.
The benefit extends to employees unable to work or telework due to the need for leave to care for a son or daughter under the age of 18 that has been impacted by the closing of a school or place of care as a result of a federal, state or local emergency declaration. According to the law, the first 10 days of this leave may be unpaid but provided with pay after 10 days at a rate no lower than two-thirds of an employee’s regular rate of pay. Paid leave is not to exceed $200 per day or $10,000 in aggregate and employees cannot be required to use available paid time off before receiving the benefit. This expansion applies to employers with fewer than 50 employees even though they are not currently subject to FMLA.
Uninsured people needing medical treatment for the coronavirus will be able to get that treatment without concerns about out-of-pocket costs or unexpected charges. Thanks to the federal stimulus package passed by Congress in early April, hospitals and healthcare providers that treat these folks will be paid for unreimbursed care at current Medicare rates.
While the law does not require that health insurance carriers and employer-sponsored health plans waive cost-sharing charges such as deductibles and coinsurance for coronavirus patients requiring medical treatment, many groups are pushing for this relief. In response, some large insurance carriers and health plans have said they would waive out-of-pocket costs for in-network COVID-treatment through the end of May. Pressure for this relief is expected to mount as shutdowns of non-essential businesses continue and more and more workers are laid off or furloughed.
Relief for HDHPs and HSAs
In another emergency ruling, the IRS said that HSA users with high deductible health plan coverage can use their coverage to pay for testing for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 pneumonia, without having to be concerned about satisfying the minimum deductible requirements common to HSA coverage. The same flexibility will now also apply to HSA account holders who need to use their coverage to pay for treatment of COVID-19 pneumonia. The IRS has cautioned that this guidance only applies to the COVID-19 emergency and does not void the other requirements governing High Deductible Health Plans and Health Savings Accounts. Since regulations and requirements regarding benefits for COVID-19 continue to evolve rapidly, plan members are advised to consult their health plan before seeking testing or treatment.
According to the CDC, the Coronavirus is thought to spread mainly through being close enough to an infected person to be touched by respiratory droplets discharged by coughing, sneezing or talking. These droplets can land in the mouth or nose or be inhaled into the lungs. Physicians suggest the virus can spread very easily between people, but not quite as easily by touching something that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine says the Coronavirus is detectable in the air for up to 3 hours, but that a very small amount can remain on cardboard for 24 hours and on plastic or stainless steel for as long as 2-3 days. The WHO says the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is very low and that catching the virus from a transmitted package is also very low.
While physicians on the Administration’s Coronavirus Task Force consistently agreed that masks were only needed by healthcare workers, authorities now recommend that masks be worn by all when going outdoors or to public places such as grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.
MetLife recently released a report showing that an increasing number of employers believe that personal finance has become the main source of stress for their employees. Lack of an emergency fund, student loan repayment and a need for advice top the list of concerns… and this was prior to the Coronavirus crisis. Knowing that no single solution can help every employee, employers are working to identify priorities and shape future offerings to include more education including self-help tools.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that annual premiums for employer-based, family coverage increased to $20,576 in 2019. This represents a one year increase of about 5 percent and a pattern of similar increases each year throughout the past decade, significantly outpacing the rate of annual inflation over the same period.
Everyone knows that a routine vision exam is important, but few may know that an optometrist or ophthalmologist can identify more 30 medical conditions, often before any outward symptoms occur. Heart disease, diabetes, liver disease and certain cancers are just a few of the serious conditions that are often detected early on by an eye care professional.
This is surprising to many, but the fact is that because our eyes are extremely sensitive organs, they are often one of the first areas affected by changes to our nervous or circulatory systems. And because the eyes and brain are so close to each other, an eye exam can often predict dementia and Alzheimer’s disease years before they begin to affect memory. If vision care is not a part of your current benefits plan, consider using your FSA or HSA funds to schedule an eye exam. Doing so just may help save your life or that of a loved one.
A recent survey by a data analytics firm found that benefits objectives often vary based on company size. Results showed that while smaller companies were focused on increasing employee productivity, mid-range employers were more concerned with employee satisfaction levels. Very large employers identified employee health and well-being as their main objective.
One interesting finding was that regardless of objectives, a high percentage of employers expressed concern that their health benefits were falling behind those of industry peers. If you share that concern, be aware that even though expectations vary by industry and workforce demographics, the days of doing things because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” are over.
Stay Open to New Ideas
Top workplaces are committed to innovation in every part of their operation and health benefits are no exception. By self-funding, most use claims data to respond to member needs and take advantage of new opportunities. Health concierge services, price transparency tools, bundled pricing and the trend to low or no deductibles and copays are just a few of the ways health plans are innovating to rein in rising costs and help employees get the care they need – important objectives of a high quality health plan.
Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults live with a mental illness. Since it has become virtually impossible to avoid a condition at work, here are some of the factors involved. First, professionals tell us that multiple cycles can impact health and productivity in different ways. Conditions can trigger at any time and while early symptoms can be mild, a supportive work environment is critical. Symptoms often increase during later phases, causing work performance to suffer. Mental health benefits and disability insurance will come into play as everyone works together to help the employee remain at work or return to work as soon as possible. Symptoms can become severe during advanced phases, making a disability leave, family leave or access to an EAP or in-network providers likely.
Because fewer than half the people who need help ever receive treatment, meeting the issue of mental health head on is very important. Having a general conversation or town hall about behavioral health can go a long way in creating a safe, healthy, supportive environment.