"Medicare
Uncategorized

Medicare Advantage, Part D Plans Get COVID-19 Leeway

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has issued new guidance regarding how Medicare Advantage and Part D plans can respond to enrollees affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Under the guidance, the plans are authorized, but not required to waive out-of-pocket costs for testing, treatment and other services related to the coronavirus.

The rules come on the heels of many of the country’s largest insurance companies announcing that they would be treating at least COVID-19 testing as covered benefits and would waive cost-sharing for tests.

The CMS made the announcement in light of the fact that COVID-19, which is caused by the coronavirus, has the most severe effects on the elderly population, as well as people with pre-existing health conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and compromised immune systems. 

“Medicare beneficiaries are at the greatest risk of serious illness due to COVID-19 and CMS will continue doing everything in our power to protect them,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a prepared statement. She added that the new guidance was aimed removing “barriers that could prevent or delay beneficiaries from receiving care.”

In the new COVID-19 guidance Medicare Advantage and Part D plans can:

  • Waive cost-sharing for testing.
  • Waive treatment cost-sharing, including primary care, emergency department, and telehealth services.
  • Eliminate prior authorizations for treatment.
  • Eliminate prescription refill restrictions.
  • Decrease limitations around home or mail prescription delivery.
  • Increase patient access to telehealth care.

These waivers are aimed at breaking down barriers to accessing care and allow plans to work with pharmacies and providers to treat patients.

Medicare Advantage rule changes

Under the new guidance, if a state of emergency is declared in your state, Medicare Advantage insurers are required to:

  • Cover Medicare Parts A and B services and supplemental Part C plan benefits furnished at non-contracted facilities, as long as they have participation agreements with Medicare.
  • Provide the same cost-sharing for enrollees at non-plan facilities as if the service or benefit had been furnished at a plan-contracted facility.
  • Make changes that benefit the enrollee effective immediately without the typical 30-day notification requirement (such as changes like reductions in cost-sharing and waiving prior authorizations).

The CMS said it would continue toexercise its enforcement discretion regarding the administration of Medicare Advantage plans’ benefit packages in light of the new emergency guidance.

Part D changes

Under the new rules:

  • Part D insurers may relax their “refill-too-soon” rules if circumstances are reasonably expected to result in a disruption in access to drugs. The rules may vary, as long as they provide access to Part D drugs at the point of sale. Part D sponsors may also allow an affected enrollee to obtain the maximum extended day supply available under their plan, if requested and available.
  • Part D insurers must ensure enrollees have adequate access to covered Part D drugs if they have to get their prescription filled at an out-of-network pharmacy in cases when those enrollees cannot reasonably be expected to obtain covered Part D drugs at a network pharmacy.
    Plan cost-sharing levels would still apply and enrollees could be responsible for additional charges (i.e., the out-of-network pharmacy’s usual and customary charge), if any, that exceed the plan allowance.
  • If enrollees are prohibited by a mandatory quarantine from going to a pharmacy to pick up their medications, Part D insurers can relax any plan-imposed rules that may discourage mail or home delivery, for retail pharmacies that choose to offer these delivery services in these instances.
  • Part D insurers may choose to waive prior authorization requirements at any time that they otherwise would apply to Part D drugs used to treat or prevent COVID-19, if or when such drugs are identified. Any such waiver must be uniformly provided to similarly situated enrollees who are affected by the disaster or emergency.

The takeaway

With these new rules and guidelines in place, if you are a Medicare recipient, this news should give you comfort as it should mean reduced costs and access to care and medicine as the outbreak continues.

If you are concerned about coverage, you can contact your Medicare Advantage plan to confirm that it has made the necessary changes to ease the burden on policyholders during the coronavirus crisis.

"telecommuting"/
Uncategorized

Tips for Successful Telecommuting During Outbreak

As the coronavirus spread ramps up and more people are being asked to self-isolate, many employers are scrambling to put systems in place to allow their employees to telecommute. 

Many companies are not set up for telecommuting arrangements, and they have legitimate concerns about productivity, communications ― and even the possibility of workers’ comp claims stemming from home hazards that may not be typical in the workplace.

But there are steps you can take to make sure that you keep your employees engaged and on task.

1. Make sure they have the right technology

If you don’t already have one, you may want to consider setting up a company VPN so your employees can access their company e-mail and databases. Any employee working from home should also be provided with a company laptop and make sure that they have an internet connection that is fast enough to handle their workload. 

Also provide an infrastructure for them to be able to work together on files. If they are not sensitive company documents, they can use Dropbox or Google Documents.

These services allow multiple editors to view and update documents simultaneously, from remote locations. This ability to check up on your employees’ work helps keep them honest. Plus, a centralized online location for shared work files minimizes the likelihood that important files will be accidentally lost or deleted.

2. Provide clear instructions

It’s extremely important that you provide clear instructions to remote workers. Some people do not perform well without direct oversight and human interaction. Without that factor, you will need to spell out your expectations and the parameters of the project they are working on in detail.

Make it clear that if they are confused or unsure about any part of the work, they should contact a supervisor for clarification. If you can eliminate misunderstandings, then your workers can be more efficient.

3. Schedule regular check-ins

To hold your employees accountable for being on the clock, schedule calls or virtual meetings at regular intervals. Even regular instant messaging works. Use these meetings to allow them to update their superiors on their work. This also helps with productivity, since there are consequences for failing to meet expectations and showing up to the meeting empty-handed.

Their supervisors should be working when they are, so they can be in regular communication. If your employees know when their supervisors are working, and vice versa, then you also create a collaborative environment where they can ask and answer questions and provide input.

4. Keep employees engaged, feeling part of the team

One of the hardest parts of working from home is the feelings of isolation and detachment from colleagues. It’s important that you build an interactive time for your workers.

One way to do that is by using a chat program like Slack, Hangouts or WhatsApp (which has a group chat function). For remote workers, these programs are a blessing because they make it easy to keep in touch with their colleagues in and out of the office ― and they level the playing field, so to speak, by making distance a non-issue. 

You can also encourage your staff to collaborate and use Skype, Facetime or Google Hangouts to video chat. Using video services creates a distinctly more intimate and real-feeling work environment for both parties.

5. Cyber protection

With more employees working from home, you also increase your cyber risk exposure, especially if they are using a company computer that is tapped into your firm’s database or cloud.

You should impress upon your employees the need to follow cyber protection best practices, such as:

  • Not clicking on suspicious links in e-mails from unknown senders.
  • Making sure that their systems have the latest security updates and patches.
  • Backing up their data daily.
  • Training them on phishing, ransomware and malware scams, especially new ones that try to take advantage of people’s fears about COVID-19.

The takeaway

If you’ve not had staff telecommuting in the past or are asking many employees who never have worked in that way to telecommute, there will be some growing pains as you work out the kinks. 

But if you follow the above tips, it will make the transition easier and less painful for your workers, their managers and the organization as a whole.

"coronavirus
Uncategorized

IRS Allows HDHPs to Pay for COVID-19 Testing, Treatment Pre-Deductible

The IRS has issued new emergency guidance that allows insurers to waive the cost of coronavirus testing and treatment for individuals who are enrolled in high-deductible health plans (HDHPs).

Major health insurers report they’ve been concerned that if they can make the change to their high-deductible plans without breaching IRS regulations regarding such plans. 

Specifically, the new guidance states that HDHPs will not lose their plan status if they provide medical care services and items related to coronavirus testing or treatment even before an enrollee has met their deductible.

While the regulation does not require HDHPs to cover the testing and treatment without any out-of-pocket expenses by the enrollee, the plans can do so ― and without breaching the rules regarding these plans.

The new rule could also pave the way for non-HDHPs like PPOs and HMOs to also provide coronavirus testing without out-of-pocket costs for their participants. While there is no rule preventing them from doing so now, many of the country’s large PPOs and HMOs have been reluctant to start offering free testing until they know how HSA plans would be affected.

Typically, enrollees in HDHPs with an attached HSA are required to pay all of their medicinal costs up to their deductible before the insurer will pay. The Trump administration earlier issued another rule that allows HDHPs to foot the bill for certain preventative health services, such as vaccines and screenings for specific conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure before the deductible is met.

In notice 2020-15, the IRS says that “Due to the unprecedented public health emergency posed by COVID-19, and the need to eliminate potential administrative and financial barriers to testing for and treatment of COVID-19, a health plan that otherwise satisfies the requirements to be an HDHP under section 223(c)(2)(A) will not fail to be an HDHP merely because the health plan provides medical care services and items purchased related to testing for and treatment of COVID-19 prior to the satisfaction of the applicable minimum deductible.”

The notice only applies to coronavirus and does not void any other requirements governing HDHPs and HSAs. It states that “Individuals participating in HDHPs or any other type of health plan should consult their particular health plan regarding the health benefits for testing and treatment of COVID-19 provided by the plan, including the potential application of any deductible or cost-sharing.”

"closed
Uncategorized

CARES Act Helps Coronavirus-affected Employers, Employees Alike

The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act stimulus law to help American workers and businesses weather the outbreak has a number of provisions that employers and their workers need to know about and can take advantage of during this crisis.

The CARES Act includes provision for:

  • Extended unemployment benefits.
  • Requiring health plans to cover COVID-19-related costs.
  • Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loans.
  • Loans for large corporations.

Parts of the CARES Act will likely benefit your organization and employees in some way. Here’s what you need to know:

Extended unemployment

The CARES Act extends unemployment insurance benefits to workers, as long as they lost their jobs due to the outbreak.

Unemployment benefits under the CARES Act also apply to furloughed employees.

Depending on your state, workers will be able to collect both state unemployment and federal unemployment through the CARES Act, which was designed to augment any unemployment benefits workers may receive in your state.

The Pandemic Emergency Compensation program funded by the CARES Act will provide an additional $600 per week on top of state unemployment benefits, through July 31. 

The law extends state-level unemployment by an additional 13 weeks. For example, whereas most of California’s unemployment benefits last 26 weeks, the bill extends state benefits to 39 weeks. The extended benefits will last through Dec. 31.

Health plan changes

Under the CARES Act, employer-sponsored group health plans must provide for covered workers – without cost-sharing or out-of-pocket expenses – the cost of COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccinations when and if they become available.

SBA loans

In response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, small business owners are eligible to apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan advance of up to $10,000.

This advance will provide economic relief to businesses that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue. Funds will be made available following a successful application. This loan advance will not have to be repaid.

This program is for any small business with fewer than 500 employees (including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and self-employed persons) as well as private non-profit organization affected by COVID-19.

And the law’s The Paycheck Protection Program offers 1% interest loans to businesses with fewer than 500 workers.

Borrowers who don’t lay off workers in the next eight weeks will have their loans forgiven, along with the interest.

These loans are designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. If small businesses maintain payroll through this economic crisis, some of the borrowed money via the PPP can be forgiven – the funds will be available through June 30. Act fast.

Mid-sized employers

Under the CARES Act, the Secretary of the Treasury is authorized to implement financial assistance programs which specifically target mid-size employers with between 500 and 10,000 employees.

Loans would not have an annualized interest rate higher than 2% and principal and interest will not be due and payable for at least six months after the loan is made. But unlike loans under the PPP, these are not forgivable.

Large employers

The CARES Act provides $500 billion to the Treasury Department’s Exchange Stabilization Fund for loans and other funding for large companies and corporations affected by the outbreak.

  • $454 billion is set aside for loans, loan guarantees.
  • Companies that receive funds are prohibited from using them for stock buybacks.
  • Loans include terms limiting employee compensation and severance pay.

Like loans for mid-sized employers, they are not forgivable.

"paid
Healthcare

New Law Requires COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave, FMLA Benefits

Legislation signed into law by President Trump will extend sick leave benefits for workers who are sickened by the coronavirus, as well as provide for additional weeks of time off under the Family Medical Leave Act so they can be guaranteed of being able to return to their jobs afterwards.

Public and private employers alike need to pay extra attention to the added paid sick leave and FMLA provisions of this new law. Both sections apply to employers with fewer than 500 employees.

Paid sick leave

Employees are entitled to two weeks (80 hours) of paid sick time for coronavirus-related issues. Eligible workers will receive their regular pay, up to $511 per day and $5,110 total. Those caring for someone subject to quarantine due to COVID-19, and parents of kids who can’t go to school or daycare, will receive two-thirds of their regular pay, up to $200 daily with a $2,000 cap.

The emergency sick leave benefit can be used immediately, regardless of how long the worker has been employed with you. It can be used when they cannot work or telecommute for any one of the following reasons:

  • The employee is subject to a government quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
  • The employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19;
  • The employee has symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
  • The employee is caring for an individual subject to quarantine due to COVID-19;
  • The employee needs to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed or whose childcare provider is unavailable due to coronavirus.

The law does not require certification of order by the government or a health care provider. But employers can require reasonable notice procedures, such as not announcing in the middle of a shift that they take COVID-19 sick leave. But they cannot require the employee to find a replacement worker to cover the shifts they will miss. Employers must post the law’s requirements “in conspicuous places.”

Employers are not allowed to discipline a worker who takes this sick or FMLA leave for coronavirus purposes and, if an employer refuses to provide the leave, they can be ordered to pay both back pay and statutory damages that are equal to the back pay the employee is owed.

This law provides payroll tax credits to offset all costs of providing these paid leaves.

FMLA

The FMLA portion of the law provides for 10 additional weeks of FMLA leave, but only for those who must stay at home to care for a child whose school is closed or their childcare provider is unavailable due to COVID-19-related issues.

These 10 weeks will be paid at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay, up to $200 per day with a cap of $10,000. They will also receive 12 weeks of leave with job protection, though employers of health care or emergency care providers can exclude such employees.

The employee would likely use up their two weeks of paid sick leave before applying for FMLA benefits, which unlike traditional FMLA (which is unpaid), are paid leaves after the first 10 days under the new law. 

Employees who have been working for more than 30 days are eligible, and the employer can require them to provide reasonable notice that they are taking leave.

A final word

This law only applies to employers with fewer than 500 workers, so it leaves uncovered those people who work for larger companies.

Also, employers need to make financial plans, as the credit cannot be claimed until after the employer pays their payroll taxes.

A bigger issue is that the law requires that workers be paid the sick leave even if they are not sick, but have been ordered to self-isolate. In states that have ordered workers to self-isolate, such as California, employers could be faced with an avalanche of paid sick leave claims all at once.

This law sunsets on Dec. 31, 2020.

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