Vice President Mike Pence, who has been charged with leading the government’s containment efforts on coronavirus, announced that insurance carriers have agreed to waive copays for diagnosis of the illness. Further, telemedicine related to the disease is also to be covered without any cost to the patient. This is important since potential exposure at hospitals or other treatment facilities is not optimal for the patient or others with comorbidities. The administration also stated that there would be no surprise billing related to treatments for the disease. And self-insured employers seem to be following this directive as well. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in revenue Notice 2020-15, confirmed that paying for these costs as a first dollar expense, similar to preventive care, would be allowable under a qualifying High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP).

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Viewpoints from Craig Hasday

A big question mark exists for uninsured Americans who may be exposed – while insurance providers are waiving costs, who will pay if there is no insurance is still unresolved and being debated by the president and Congress.Treatment for those who contract the disease seemingly will be covered as any other illness and in all likelihood, indigent uninsured patients would get appropriate care in qualified facilities.

But what about exposure to coronavirus? While officials and many employers are encouraging anyone exposed to the disease to self-quarantine, many Americans lack paid family leave and may not be able to afford missing work. Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 77% of workers earning between $19 and $13.25 per hour have available paid sick leave, 47% of workers in the $13.25 per hour or less wage category have access, and for those earning $10.48 per hour or less this access drops to 30%.

It has been widely publicized that 80% of those contracting the disease will have only minor symptoms and others with the disease have been asymptomatic. All of this adds up to many Americans having been exposed, or even contracted coronavirus, and who continue to work and expose others.

While $8.3 billion has been authorized by Congress for combating this disease, it’s clear that there are unresolved cost considerations that only the federal government can solve, and they need to act quickly.

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Craig Hasday

President, National Employee Benefits Practice