COVID-19 is stunning in its impact on the complexity of our daily lives. For the past eighteen months, entire societal systems have been upended. As some commentators have put it, we have advanced a decade in a matter of months in terms of how we live, work, and interact with each other.
Understandably, the pandemic has created even more anxiety over subjects that everyone already worries about: health and finances. We all want to know that our families will be cared for and that we can rely on the benefits we’ve earned through our careers.
As with many other aspects of our employment situations, COVID-19 has had an influence on healthcare and disability benefits. In order to ensure the best care for you and your family, it’s important to be aware of the state of your employee benefits plans.
Here are five important things you should know about your benefits in the wake of COVID-19:
Acute care needs related to the pandemic should be covered
Since COVID-19 is a contagious disease transmitted through respiratory exposure, contracting it results in obvious acute care needs. Treatment related to COVID-19 should, for the most part, be covered by your insurer or through federal government reimbursements. The nationwide vaccination program is being administered at no cost and COVID-19 testing is often free or covered without cost-sharing obligations. If you are being charged for COVID-19 preventative or diagnostic care, there is likely a problem with the claim.
Mental health treatments should also be covered
An extremely important, but often overlooked aspect of healthcare during the pandemic, is for the treatment of mental health and substance abuse. Treatment for these conditions is mandated under federal law (and some state laws). Appropriate care for outpatient, inpatient, and residential treatment is to be provided in all healthcare plans that are covered by the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act.
If you’ve been laid off, the health exchange may be a better option than COBRA
Continued healthcare if you were furloughed or laid off is also of particular concern. If you work for an employer with more than 20 employees, you should have received a COBRA notice if you were furloughed or laid off. COBRA allows you to continue with your current health insurance for 18 months, albeit at a significant cost. Many employees that have been laid off find coverage on the ACA exchanges may be a more affordable option than COBRA. For those who have been hurt financially in a more significant way, some states will provide basic health insurance coverage paid for by Medicaid.
Your physical work location should not interrupt your coverage
Employee benefits such as healthcare and other benefits, particularly long-term disability (LTD) insurance, are available to employees who are “actively-at-work.” In other words, the employees have to be active employees, and in most cases, working full-time. What this means is that even if you are working from home, or off-site, certain benefits should continue without interruption as the employment status is what governs your eligibility, not the physical location of the work site.
This is particularly important in the context of long-term disability insurance protections. Your LTD benefits typically replace your income if you are unable to work because of a non-work related medical event, such as an illness or injury that occurs outside the workplace.
LTD benefits are critically important for an individual or family’s financial security since a good policy provides roughly the same amount of income that a person brings home after taxes.
“Actively-at-work” clauses have been interpreted to mean that an employee must be working at his or her regular place of business. For many, that place of business has become the home.
Employees are slacking on retirement investing
Now is not a time to get lax with your retirement investing, but that’s exactly what’s happening. Since the pandemic began, the meeting with 401(k) representatives has been largely moved to video conference calls that are easy to miss or reschedule. When representatives are onsite (often providing lunch) it is easier to think about the health of your retirement plan.
Through COVID-19 we’re seeing many employees lose a year-and-a-half or more of time at the office, making it easy to skip the meeting with your advisor. Failing to properly fund your retirement investing during this time can provide some challenges later in life – like extending your retirement date.
Don’t fall victim to this. Stay on top of it and schedule that call. Also important is to take stock of the charges and fees that have been assessed against those accounts. Keep an eye on them. If the fees are excessive, your retirement planning may be further affected.
To summarize, now is not the time to coast and hope your benefits are fine.
The COVID-19 crisis has affected almost every aspect of our lives. Employee benefits are no exception. Knowing what your benefit plans provide, and how they are supposed to support you, is critical to your future physical and financial health. It’s easy to let this slip to the back of your mind, but to not take stock and make sure your benefits are in order would be a mistake.
Do this now: Help ensure your family’s well-being by setting up a call with your human resource manager to go over the details of your healthcare, disability, and retirement benefits.
The legal world involving employee benefits claims is complex and specialized. If you suspect there is a problem with your health insurance coverage, disability, or retirement benefits, please ask us for help. The first call is on us. We have the legal background and skills necessary to help you solve the problem.
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Authored by J.J. Conway, Principal Attorney and Founder