Each new calendar year brings significant changes in the form of laws and regulations affecting employee benefits and general HR compliance. And this year, with the ongoing COVID-pandemic, employers are facing more unprecedented challenges that ever before. In this post, we’ll cover some of the main employee benefits issues that you’ll need to be aware of as we head into 2021.
Specifically, we’ll cover:
- COVID Testing
- Uncertainty of Healthcare Under New Presidential Administration
- Deferred Renewals
- Employees Going Remote and/or Relocating
- Second COVID Wave and Corresponding Government Response
- Cares Act COVID Benefit
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many state governments passed legislation to relax the eligibility requirements for furloughed employees to retain their benefits. Many of these regulatory actions were temporary and will expire as of January 1st, 2021.
Business owners should review the legislation that was passed in their states to determine if this circumstance will apply to them and any of their employees who remain furloughed. It’s also key to remain vigilant for any new legislation that may pass in the coming month around the topic of furloughs.
2. COVID Testing
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which was signed into law by President Trump on March 18, 2020 to respond to the pandemic, ensures that, “COVID-19 testing is free to anyone in the U.S., including the uninsured.” However, this provision will expire on December 31, 2020. This means that COVID testing will no longer be free, unless the Federal Government passes further legislation to extend free testing.
Consult directly with your healthcare provider to determine what their plans are for covering COVID testing as of January 1st, if any.
3. Uncertainty of Healthcare Under New Presidential Administration
Healthcare is always a topic of heated debate, especially during election years like 2020. This has caused many employers to ask themselves: what will healthcare look like under the Biden/Harris administration?
Biden plans to build off the ACA’s framework and expand a public health option similar to Medicare. This public option would directly compete with private insurance providers and would be available to anyone, regardless of whether their employer offers qualified-health plans. Additionally, regarding Medicare, Biden has proposed lowering the eligibility age to 60 from 65.
If Biden is successful in either of these healthcare initiatives, it would certainly flip healthcare as we currently know it upside down. Employers must remain tuned-into ongoing legislative conversations as the Biden administration begins their transition into the White House.
4. Deferred Renewals
Many benefits carriers handed out rate passes or premium holidays in light of the pandemic, regardless of loss ratios. Will these actions ultimately lead to significant renewals in 2021 for their clients? If your carrier granted you a rate pass or premium holiday, be sure you take that into consideration as you prepare to make decisions about renewing coverage with that provider.
5. Employees Going Remote and/or Relocating
Perhaps the most significant long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is that many employees will become permanent work-from-home employees. This will give many people more flexibility with their living arrangements, and some will likely choose to relocate now that they can work from anywhere. This will undoubtably be a trend in 2021.
Employers should reevaluate benefit offerings to allow for these remote employees to have proper coverage wherever they may be. As a business leader, it’s crucial you work hand-in-hand with your benefits broker during this time to ensure you are addressing the healthcare needs of a newly remote workforce.
6. Second COVID Wave and Corresponding Government Response
Recent news about the positive preliminary results of potential coronavirus vaccines has provided a light at the end of the tunnel. However, cases are still surging in most states around the country. It is clear that we are in a second, more powerful wave of infections. However, the Federal Government has yet to pass any significant legislation to follow up the FFCRA or CARES ACT that were passed in March. With the election behind us, keep a close eye on the government to see what relief bills may be passed in the coming weeks and months.
Additionally, employers should be on the watch for any “stay-at-home” restrictions that are put in place, by either the federal government or by local state or city governments.
Whatever legislation ends up passing, if any, pay special attention to what it implies for “non-essential” businesses that need to have employees in-person. If extreme “stay-at-home” restrictions are put back in place, how will employees meet hourly requirements to maintain benefits?
If you haven’t already, you should be developing contingency plans to deal with varying levels of government restriction so that you know how to address these potential issues with your employees.
7. CARES Act COVID Benefit
As briefly mentioned in the previous section, the Federal Government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March. Under the CARES Act, the government helps reimburse employees who are out of work due to COVID so the employer is not paying out of their employer Short Term Disability policy.
The question remains, will the CARES Act benefit continue throughout 2021 or will employers bear the financial brunt? Many employers are hopeful the federal government will take steps over the next few weeks to clarify what the future of the CARES Act will be.
From an HR and employee benefits perspective, we’ll enter the year 2021 with much uncertainty about how the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to affect the workplace. However, there are a few areas that employers will want to keep an eye on in the coming weeks and months so that they’ll have a better idea of what they’ll face in 2021:
- Furloughs – Will regulatory actions that help furloughed employees retain their benefits continue into 2021?
- COVID Testing – Will testing for COVID-19 still be free after December 31st, 2020?
- Uncertainty of Healthcare Under New Presidential Administration – What will happen to the healthcare industry and Medicare under the incoming Biden Administration?
- Deferred Renewals – Will benefits carriers see significant renewals increases in 2021 due to benefits holidays or rate passes that were handed out in 2020?
- Employees Going Remote and/or Relocating – How must employers adjust their benefits plans to address the needs of a remote workforce?
- Second COVID Wave and Corresponding Government Response – How significant will this second wave of COVID infections become, and what will be the response of federal, state, and local governments?
- Cares Act COVID Benefit – Will the Federal Government extend the CARES ACT (or pass any follow-up legislation)?