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March 7, 2023

Six Tips for Employee Health Policies After the COVID-19 Emergency

Stephen Massey

Employers have decisions to make about their company-sponsored health plans as a result of the national COVID-19 public health emergency ending on May 11.

At our employer briefing last week, experts offered advice to help companies both safeguard employee health and acknowledge the enormous progress that has made it possible to declare an end to the emergency.

Here are six recommendations for shaping your post-emergency COVID-19 health policies.

  1. Center low-wage workers — primarily those without private insurance.

    Because of the emergency, 18 million Americans gained health coverage through Medicaid but, starting in April, states will begin to thin out their Medicaid rolls. About 4 million people are expected to become completely uninsured. As a result, they may find it more difficult to access tests to confirm when they have COVID-19. Consider keeping a stock of tests on hand and making them directly available. 
  2. Maintain in-network coverage for tests, without a doctor visit.

    During the pandemic emergency, health plans were required to cover up to 8 over-the-counter COVID-19 tests each month for each member, even out-of-network. "There’s no reason to go to an out-of-plan provider for that,” says Jeff Levin-Scherz, Population Health Leader at WTW. “But we want people to test when they feel ill rather than just go into the workplace,” he says, which is a reason to continue in-network coverage for rapid tests—and without the requirement for a doctor to order the test. “Adding the extra step of needing a doctor doesn’t really help anything.”
  3. Encourage sick workers to stay home — and provide paid leave for them to do so.

    If workers have to risk their pay to stay home when they’re sick, there’s little incentive for them to do so or to test themselves for COVID-19 at all. That leaves your workplace—and the 3 in 5 Americans at high risk for getting very sick from COVID-19—vulnerable.

    A brand new review of over 2,000 previous studies suggests that paid sick leave is linked with increased job satisfaction, improved retention and productivity, and some measures of company performance.
  4. Keep telehealth visits available as an option, especially in rural areas.

    Many employer plans didn’t charge for telehealth visits during the emergency. While employees may now be expected to share some costs for those appointments, keeping telehealth as an available option could help some workers access care who wouldn’t otherwise, especially in rural areas.
  5. Promote the availability of treatments now.

    There are currently still millions of treatment doses available for free from the federal government’s stockpile to those 3 in 5 Americans who are at high risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. While that free supply is expected to run out this summer, in the meantime, educating your employees about the availability and effectiveness of treatments could increase their uptake and prevent severe illness and hospitalization among your team.

    Check out our Act Fast Against COVID-19 Toolkit for key messages, communication tips, sample emails and more to help you reach employees to know their risk and make a plan for treatment.
  6. Continue allowing employees who want to wear masks to do so without stigma.

    For many people, including those who are immunocompromised (or have family members with immune deficiency), COVID-19 remains a serious threat. Part of empowering employees to take control of their own health is supporting those who want to take additional precautions, such as wearing a mask at the workplace. Continue allowing them to do so without fear of harassment or stigma.