The coronavirus is testing employers and human resource departments with new issues, and public policy will further complicate matters for employers. Short-term disability contracts provide income replacement to workers who are unable to work due to illness or injury, and these would apply should an employee contract the disease. But what should an employer do if the employee is unable to work due to quarantine from exposure to illness, and for how long? One major insurance company posed just that question to its self-insured clients: if absence from work is due to disease spread prevention, would the employer authorize short-term disability benefits even if the employee is asymptomatic?

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Viewpoints from Craig Hasday

At a minimum, employers should be ramping up work-from-home policies and remote systems access.

And EPIC has been pushing telemedicine for several years. Despite extensive communication efforts, utilization for many employers has been low. Now is the time for employers to redouble their efforts on informing employees about telemedicine options. With insufficient and ineffective testing available for coronavirus and potentially widespread exposure, it stands to reason that employees should be encouraged to avoid visits to doctors’ offices, urgent care clinics, and emergency rooms if they are able to. Telemedicine has proven to be effective for many emergent medical conditions.

Don’t forget your EAP.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are a good source of educational information on a broad array of employee concerns. And many leading EAPs are stepping up with coronavirus-specific education and tools for employees to get advice. Of course, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website is a great authoritative resource for current information.

What about life insurance coverage?

If the mortality exposure from coronavirus is as significant as has been stated, that’s a lot of potential death claim exposure should an outbreak occur with a large employer. I would expect that life insurers will take a proactive approach should an outbreak occur in a location with a great deal of life insurance claim exposure.

Federal and state governments are going to have a lot to say about coronavirus as well.

Earlier this week, Governor Cuomo of New York issued an order requiring New York State insurers to waive any cost-sharing associated with coronavirus testing and any cost-sharing for a vaccine when it is developed. This makes sense due to the fear of test and vaccine avoidance because of the associated cost (and subsequently the potential acceleration of disease spread) and I think self-insured employers should consider this as well. Coronavirus has the potential to impact healthcare budgets. Hopefully, the impact will be more like the flu than like a major pandemic.

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Craig Hasday

President, National Employee Benefits Practice