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White House to End COVID-19 Public Health Emergency: What This Means for Employers

HR experts answer employee questions

Quick look: Three years after coming to a pandemic-driven halt, which led to unprecedented changes in the workforce, the world is in a much different place in 2023. Though COVID-19 concerns linger, there’s a better understanding of prevention and treatment for the disease. Thus, an end to the national public health emergency is on the horizon, leaving employers wondering: what’s next?

There’s no denying things have changed since COVID-19 first arrived in March 2020. Businesses were forced to quickly adapt to safety and sanitation protocols, as well as deal with consequential workplace hurdles, such as layoffs and voluntary employee resignations.

And though mask requirements and six-feet-apart spacing may no longer be largely in effect, businesses are still strategizing on how to maintain a healthy and productive workplace.

This includes evaluating employee benefits. Starting May 11, 2023, once the country is no longer considered to be in a state of emergency, changes to healthcare coverage will take effect. Employers must be prepared to abide by new health plan requirements as well as consider how these updates may alter their overall benefit strategy going forward.

Modifying health plans sans emergency benefits

The last few years have conditioned employers to stay flexible when it comes to workplace restructuring, a challenge even without a global pandemic complicating things. To prepare and keep business growth on the rise, many employers opt to engage in a professional employer organization (PEO) partnership.

A PEO helps to research health plans, keep companies compliant, and communicate HR updates to employees, all while considering what’s necessary for companies to stay competitive. Here are a few of the changes employers expect come May and why employers might want to consider keeping COVID-19 benefits as part of the plan.

COVID-19 testing and vaccines

Since the start of the pandemic, the U.S. public health emergency mandated COVID-19 testing as part of both in-network and out-of-network health insurance plans without attributing any cost to the employee. However, beginning this May, group plans and insurers will no longer be required to provide coverage for COVID-19 diagnostic tests. Therefore, employers will need to decide whether they will still pay for these benefits or pass the costs onto the employee.

Similarly, COVID-19 vaccines have been cost-free for all, paid for by government funding. Soon they’ll be required to be covered as part of preventative services (on an in-network basis only) unless part of a grandfathered group health plan. Business leaders must decide whether they will absorb these costs and how testing and vaccination requirements, in general, fit into their company policies.

Telemedicine plans

Due to initial stay-at-home orders and social distancing protocols, telemedicine quickly spiked with 37% of adults using it in 2021. Now, the convenience and accessibility have made it an integral part of employee benefits. Employees not only appreciate it; they expect it. Plan sponsors using standalone telemedicine plans will need to make them part of the main medical plan to stay compliant. This means the benefit will be available to employees and their dependents when enrolled in their employer’s medical plan.

Employee Assistance Programs

Additionally, once the public health emergency has been lifted, employers may need to amend their employer assistance programs (EAPs) to remove COVID benefits. This is applicable if the EAP was designed for excepted benefits rather than significant benefits. An EAP established in this way provides certain healthcare costs not covered by primary group health plans without requiring employee contributions as a condition of participation.

Advantages of maintaining COVID-19 health coverage

Though some of these updates may mean new costs for employers, there are advantages to maintaining coverage which may make them worthwhile long term. Taking precautions through vaccinations and diagnosis testing promotes healthy and active work environments. It helps to reduce workplace absences due to illness and keeps employees feeling better protected health-wise when in the office.

Moreover, introducing remote or hybrid work benefits may also prevent the spread of illness without compromising productivity. In fact, research shows 40% of employees worked longer hours at home than in the office with 75% still saying their work-life balance has improved. Furthermore, a CareerPulse survey found 97% of participants prefer some type of remote work environment, which can serve as a competitive advantage for businesses reshaping their benefit plans.

Companies willing to offer this type of benefit are more likely to recruit and retain workers than those mandating a full time in-office presence. When deciding whether to absorb vaccination and testing costs for health plans post-pandemic, it’s important to keep in mind employee demands continue to evolve as well. Adhering to benefits employees want as part of a comprehensive compensation package boosts recruitment and retention, thereby, lowering costs overall.

Having a PEO partner by your side

Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) already face the challenge of competing with larger companies when offering competitive benefits. Even the smallest difference can have a significant impact. It’s beneficial to have a PEO partner like ExtensisHR to review benefit terms under the pandemic relief regulations and plan a strategy moving forward.

A PEO can offer premium benefits at an affordable cost, while helping SMB leaders maintain compliance and minimize risk. Additionally, our HR professionals provide company-wide communication and updates about new legislations, employment laws, changing benefits, and more. Plus, our mobile-first HR platform ensures SMBs and employees can stay connected from anywhere. This saves time, improves accessibility, and keeps everyone aligned and informed.

In addition to benefit administration, HR services through a PEO partnership include payroll, recruiting, compliance management, and expertise regarding all things HR. This allows SMB leaders to focus on company growth while alleviating a critical yet time-consuming part of a company’s operations. Through our person-to-person approach and customized solutions, we guide SMBs through the ever-changing HR landscape so they can set themselves up for success and apart from the competition.

Want trusted support and guidance regarding benefit compliance and competitive health plans? Our team of HR experts is here to help. Contact ExtensisHR today.

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