Doctor's office In-person testing with no cost-sharing is required by federal policy of all health plans, and a majority of respondents are offering onsite or near site clinics for such testing. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Large employers in the West have modified their workplace health plans to give greater support to employees impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Pacific Business Group on Health’s Member COVID-19 Survey Report.

All of the 21 large employer PBGH members that responded to the survey are paying for telemedicine screening for COVID-19 testing with no cost-sharing. In-person testing with no cost-sharing is required by federal policy of all health plans, and a majority (67%) of respondents are offering onsite or near site clinics for such testing.

Related: 3 FAQs about health care coverage and COVID-19

“Those with onsite or near site labs are taking various approaches to making testing services available to their employees, including purchasing tests from a vendor; offering lab services through regional medical centers at designated locations; and establishing a ‘fast pass’ setup with local hospitals to expedite appointments for testing,” the authors write. “Some employers report that they are exploring new avenues to make sure testing is available to their employees.”

The respondents are taking a mixed approach to waiving costs for medical treatment, according to the survey. Nearly half (45%) of the non-high deductible plans offered by the respondents are waiving cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment; 32% of high-deductible plans are waiving cost-share, while 80% of treatment via telemedicine are covered in full.

Mental health services also see mixed approach to coverage. While 61% of respondents are covering the full cost of mental health visits via telemedicine, just 20% of the respondents are doing the same for office visits.

Prescription drug access is being prioritized. The majority (72%) of respondents say they’ve altered their policies to ensure employees and their dependents have access to needed medications.

“Among employer respondents intervening to ensure their employees have access to prescription drugs during this crisis, some report allowing their pharmacy benefit managers to waive both early refill requirements and to make delivery free of charge to patients,” the authors write. “PBMs are also being asked to prompt employees to switch to their mail-order service. Others report taking active measures to prevent dangerous stockpiling of medications.”

More than half (52%) of the respondents say they are keeping all interns and contractors for duration of agreement. Respondents are also making their work at-home arrangements flexible for employees.

“Some large employers are encouraging on-going discussions between employees and their managers to establish work-at-home arrangements among as much of their workforce as possible,” the authors write. “Special arrangements are also being made to compensate employees mandated not to come to work but who are unable to work from home.”

A third of the respondents are implementing a variety of paid time off policies, according to the survey. Some are providing temporary emergency paid sick leave for essential onsite employees, while others are applying benefits for paid time off, including non-routine “time-off” pay if an employee’s inability to work onsite is due to a government order. More than half say they’re paying employees who need to care for a family member afflicted with COVID-19 via a host of methods, including temporary/emergency pay and establishing special leave policies for impacted employees.

Employers are also testing new benefits to support employees.

“Companies are creating opportunities for connection via Zoom parties or virtual coffee breaks, maintaining company-wide fitness challenges, offering financial and retirement counseling and implementing pay cuts for senior leadership,” the authors write.

The ultimate impact of COVID-19 on employer costs are unknown, according to the survey. Half (50%) of the respondents say they need more time to determine the likely cost of the virus on costs and premiums. A third (30%) anticipate increases of 5 to 15%.

When asked about their top concerns regarding the pandemic’s impacts, top answers are employees and dependents falling ill (81%); business operation disruptions (67%); overarching U.S. recession (43%); health care costs increasing (43%); financial losses and near-term or future cost reductions, including layoffs (33%); employee productivity decreasing (10%); a lack of information related to COVID-19 (5%); other (10%).

“Employers say they are worried about the potential impact of insurers passing along COVID-related costs to them and their employees,” the authors write. “Some indicated concern about the potential for a humanitarian crisis due to the country’s lack of preparedness for the pandemic and whether there is sufficient access to essential workers.”

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