Employers Mobilizing Benefits and Policy Changes in Light of COVID-19

As the coronavirus disrupts lives and businesses around the world, employers are mobilizing to support their employees and community efforts related to COVID-19 testing, treatment, and social distancing. Their approaches are not universal, with significant variations among organizations and across industries. This is among the findings of a survey from the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions (National Alliance) conducted to help employers understand and benchmark the handling of COVID-19 from a benefits and policy perspective.

The Kentuckiana Health Collaborative (KHC) is a member of the National Alliance. Some of KHC’s employer members participated in this online survey, which was conducted from March 18-23, 2020 and completed nationally by 256 employers of varying size and industry that are members of coalitions affiliated with the National Alliance.

“We’re faced with a tale of two cities,” said Michael Thompson, National Alliance president and CEO. “While most salaried employees can effectively work from home, the great majority of hourly workers don’t have the same flexibility. Where possible, employers are moving rapidly to enable a virtual workplace. Where this is not possible, they are working to maintain a certain level of operations and support social distancing. All are looking at how to best mitigate the financial impact for their employees as well as their own bottom line.”

Additional survey findings:

  • Almost all organizations have banned unessential travel, hosting, and attendance at in-person meetings (98+%).
  • In general, over 70% of salaried employees and less than 50% of hourly employees can work from home and effectively perform their jobs. The ability to effectively work from home also varies by industry as finance, insurance, and professional services are more adaptable than retail and manufacturing.
  • For those employees who can work from home, 69% of employers have implemented telecommunication policies, with 50% on a mandatory basis.
  • For those employees that cannot effectively do their jobs at home, 60% of employers are implementing flex hours for jobs that require employees at the worksite; 24% are shutting operations temporarily with pay (another 20% considering); and 5% are shuttering operations without pay (another 24% considering).
  • Telemedicine is rapidly becoming a mainstream strategy with waived copays for testing visits.
  • The emotional impact of COVID-19 is also being addressed as 53% of employers are providing special programs for their workforce.
  • Accommodations for caregiving responsibilities due to COVID-19 (e.g., as schools and daycares shut down) are also being considered by employers with 59% offering unpaid family leave and 46% offering paid family leave.
  • Considering the recent IRS guidance for benefit coverage under HSA-compatible high deductible plans, 89% of employers are offering or considering offering first dollar coverage of COVID-19 testing. At this time, 37% are also covering the actual treatment of conditions related to COVID-19 on a first dollar basis.
  • Well over half (66%) are waiving or considering waiving copays for office visits associated with the COVID-19 testing and three out of four are waiving or considering waiving copays related to COVID-19 related telemedicine visits.
  • Employers are generally not offering similar COVID-19 coverage for non-benefit eligible employees or contractors. Few employers are currently offering COVID-19 testing at onsite/near site clinics.

Full details on the survey findings can be found here. The survey results have been used to structure a series of Employer Town Hall events hosted by the National Alliance, open to all employers, regardless of membership with the National Alliance or KHC. Five Employer Town Hall conversations have been held so far, and three more are planned for May. Each Town Hall focuses on a specific aspect of the pandemic and includes an expert panel, round-robin conversation, and questions from participants. To access past recordings or register for future events, click here.

KHC COMPILES CORONAVIRUS RESOURCES PAGE FOR HEALTHCARE STAKEHOLDERS

Additionally, the KHC has created a COVID-19 Resources page that serves as a one-stop shop for providers, purchasers, plans, and consumers for pandemic-related issues. The page includes relevant news, events, guides, and more and will be updated frequently. Inboxes are being flooded each day with webinars and more, and the page compiles all of this into one page. If you have a resource or event that you believe would be of interest to KHC partners, please send to Natalie Middaugh at nmiddaugh@khcollaborative.org.

The KHC also is planning several events and town halls related to the pandemic and strategies to navigate these unprecedented times. KHC members are invited to attend a town hall discussing back-to-work strategies and concerns, which will be announced soon. Additionally, the KHC is speaking with experts to host educational webinars for KHC members and the public. To receive announcements about these events, be sure to sign up for the KHC newsletter mailing list.