Self Insured Plan & Contract Amendments Likely Required To Waive Deductibles, Expand Other Coronavirus Coverage

Following up on the White House’s announcement yesterday that by major health insurers, Medicare and Medicaid to cover medically necessary testing and expand coverage for treatment of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (“coronavirus), without applying deductibles or coinsurance and offer expanded telemedicine and other coverage for coronavirus care, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) today issued guidance giving health plans confirming health plans waiving deductibles won’t violate the Internal Revenue Code health savings account high deductible health plan rules.  However many employer or other sponsors of self-insured health plans may need to amend their health plans and take other steps if they want their health plans to provide similar coverage.  Meanwhile the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) released updated guidance to help businesses, schools, and other organizations to operate safely during the current outbreak.

Coronavirus Testing & Other Health Coverage

Major health insurers agreed in a Whitehouse Coronavirus Taskforce meeting yesterday to cover medically necessary testing and extend coverage to medically necessary treatment. The agreement only technically binds Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs  and private insurers participating in the meeting. It does not automatically extend coverage or waive deductibles for self-insured employer or union sponsored health plans which provide coverage for an estimated 61 percent of covered U.S. worker and their families. Self-insured plan sponsors wishing to provide similar coverage and waive deductibles generally will need to take specific action to amend their plans and related contractracts and communications.

Vice President Pence announced the agreement with insurers yesterday saying among other things:

I’m pleased to report, as you requested, Mr. President, that all the insurance companies here — either today or before today — have agreed to waive all copays on coronavirus testing and extend coverage for coronavirus treatment in all of their benefit plans.

And, at your direction, Medicare and Medicaid, last week, already made it clear to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries that coronavirus testing and treatment would be covered. These private insurance carriers have extended that as well.

They’ve also agreed to cover telemedicine so that anyone, particularly among the vulnerable senior population, would not feel it necessary to go to a hospital or go to their doctor. They’ll know that telemedicine is covered.

While the announcement indicates that insurers involved in the meeting plan to expand coverage and waive deductibles,  self-insured employer and union sponsored plans aren’t technically covered by the agreement.  While  many employers sponsoring self-insured health plans will want their health plan to provide similar coverage as part of their risk management response to the coronavirus outbreak. Self-insured plan sponsors and fiduciaries should confirm appropriate plan language is adopted and that their stop loss insurance carriers are on board or other arrangements are made to plan for and cover costs, and that other plan vendors are on board to handle responsibilities. This is particularly critical as failing to make the necessary amendments could result in an absence of stoploss insurance to cover additional cost. And relatively small workforce is with few people seeking the care, this might not make a material difference in plan costs. If several workers seek treatment, however, the absence of stoploss insurance coverage for the claims could both impact coverage for those particular items if the deductible under the policy has been met as well as could affect whether those claims count overall aggregate coverage losses. The bottom line is, make sure that your documentation matches your Promise or your extension of coverage will likely be truly 100% self insured. Likewise employers and other plan sponsors in the plan administrators of these plans are reminded that the law generally requires that they provide written notice of the changes to plan members in a timely fashion. Having plan administration services and other vendors on board also is important to ensure that the claims are appropriately and timely processed to avoid violation of plan terms and other rules.

In the meantime, the widespread lack of understanding among plan members about the distinction between insured and self-insured plans coupled with the breadth of the unqualified announcement by the White House is likely to fuel confusion by covered individuals and their providers.  Not only will covered persons and providers need to know whether the program is insured or self-insured, they also will need to confirm how each of these programs implements the expanded coverage.

IRS Guidance Clears Way For High Deductible Health Plans To Raise Deductibles

Employers and health plans wishing to waive deductibles for coronavirus testing will not have to worry that waiving the deductible will violate IRS high deductible health plan (“HDHP”) rules, however.  Earlier today, the IRS provided relief allowing high deductible health plans to pay these expenses without disqualifying their programs for high deductible health plan treatment under the Code in Notice 2020-15. The Notice provides that, until further guidance is issued, a health plan that otherwise satisfies the requirements to be a HDHP under Code section 223(c)(2)(A) will not fail to be an HDHP under section 223(c)(2)(A) merely because the health plan provides health benefits associated with testing for and treatment of COVID-19 without a deductible, or with a deductible below the minimum deductible (self only or family) for an HDHP.  Also due to this guidance, an individual covered by the HDHP will not be disqualified from being an eligible individual under section 223(c)(1) who may make tax-favored contributions to a health savings account (HSA).

Business & Other Disruptions Response

Government, healthcare and other leaders are urging businesses and individuals to limit contact and care to guard against the virus because of its strength and ability to spread quickly. The U.S.’s top infectious-disease specialist told lawmakers the pathogen “is 10 times more deadly than the seasonal flu.”

Accordingly, health and government officials are urging all segments of society to take precautions. CDC, for instance has published the resources to help businesses, schools and others keep their people and locations safe here.

Unfortunately the strategy for ending the pandemic brings its own draconian side effects. Along with dealing with the threat of the disease itself, the efforts to manage the disease outbreak, many businesses also are forced to deal with demand losses, supply and business interruptions, staffing shortages, unanticipated expenses and a wide range of other operational and financial disruptions that are side effects of the outbreak and its management.

The outbreak has and continues to prompt the cancellation of a plethora of business, trade, government, school, and sports and entertainment events.  Notable for its involvement in heath care and related insurance matters, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (“NAIC”) is one of a growing number of event sponsors that are allowing workers to work from home, are cancelling or banning participation in   live meetings and other events and/or are converting from live to virtual formats in response to the outbreak.   Trade and business associations, entertainment and sports and otehr venures also are impacted.  For instance, the NAIC announced its decision to move its meetings to a purely virtual format today.  According to the announcement, the National Spring Meeting that had been scheduled to take place in Phoenix next week is cancelled.  Instead, the NAIC announced the following tentative schedule:

A revised schedule with dates, times and call-in numbers will be available on next week. 

Concerning the reasons for its decision, the NAIC explained:

Recently, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has exceeded 100,000 worldwide, including over 1000 confirmed U.S. cases in 36 jurisdictions. Given rapidly changing information and out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our members, guests and staff, the NAIC officers, in consultation with NAIC members, have decided to hold the Spring National Meeting in a virtual-only format. 

The NAIC is only one of a multitude of events cancelled or converted to a virtual format in the wake of fears of the coronavirus outbreak as US officials try to stem the spread of the virus.  See e.g., Coronavirus updates in Texas: Community spread, school cancellations and more; Colleges and Universities Cancel Classes and Move Online Amid Coronavirus Fears; Coronavirus and sports: Seattle Mariners will move their home games, Golden State Warriors will play without fans and CBI is canceled.  

Along with limiting contact, for instance, many businesses and organizations are “deep cleaning” their facilities to address potential virus contamination. Some biological experts point out however that this deep cleaning involves substantial expenditures which do little to guard against new exposures brought by others coming into a business, school or other workplace. Some biological contamination experts suggest that organizations should consider investing in resources specified ultraviolet lights or other tools that could help control exposures on a longer-term and more recurrent basis. Experts emphasize that remediation and prevention efforts need to recognize that exposures are likely to occur recurrently over a period of time across the life of this and future virus outbreaks.

The financial consequences of staffing or supply shortages, declines in product or services demands, event cancellations, cleaning and other costs and a host of other side effects present such a widespread risk to many businesses that many are facing layoffs or even bankruptcy or other restrucuring.  While President Trump and other federal and state leaders are promising employment tax holidays and other relief to try to mitigate some of these financial effects, businesses impacted by these disruptions should begin assessing and planning to execute options to mitigate losses and manage these risks as soon as possible to maximize their potential ability to take advantage of options to restructure debt or contractual obligations, adjust workforce staffing, and make other adjustments successfully to weather the pandemic storm and fallout.  When considering these options, businesses will want to understand the relative complete costs of reductions in hours, furloughs, contractual adjustments and other options to make and execute their choices as well as possible.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.  

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About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. As a significant part of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively domestically and internationally with business, government and community leaders to prepare for and deal with pandemic and other health and safety, financial, workforce and other organizational crisis, change and workforce, employee benefit, health care and other operations planning, preparedness and response for more than 30 years.  As a part of this work, she regularly advises businesses and government leaders on an an  demand and ongoing basis about preparation of workforce, health care and other business and government policies and practices to deal with management in a wide range of contexts ranging from day to day operations, through times of change and in response to operational, health care, natural disaster, economic and other crisis and change.

Author of “Privacy and the Pandemic Workshop” for the Association of State and Territorial Health Plans, “How to Conduct A Reduction In Force,” and a multitude of other highly regarded publications and presentations on workforce, compliance, health care and health benefits, pandemic and other health crisis, workers’ compensation and occupational disease, business disaster and distress and many other topics, Ms. Stamer has worked with employers, insurers, health industry organizations and providers and domestic and international community and government leaders on pandemic and other health and safety, workforce and performance preparedness, risks and change management, disaster preparedness and response and other operational and tactical concerns throughout her adult life. A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension privaitization project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on crisis preparedness and response, workforce, health care and other reform, as well as regularly advises and defends organizations about the design, administration and defense of their organizations workforce, employee benefit and compensation, safety, discipline and other management practices and actions.

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law By the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her extensive publications and thought leadership as well as leadership involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.  

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