Washington has responded to the coronavirus pandemic with three major pieces of legislation so far and a flurry of guidance that address some of the big asks from the benefits community regarding healthcare issues, including Mercer. There is some unfinished business, however, that employers want to see addressed in “phase 4” virus relief legislation Congress is now considering.
Lawmakers are negotiating a package even though both the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-led Senate left Washington last week after sending the CARES Act to President Trump. Lawmakers in both chambers are infected with COVID-19, so Congress is working remotely and it’s not clear when it will reconvene.
What is clear is that House Speaker Pelosi is pushing hard to pass a big phase 4 bill as soon as possible, but the process is likely take a lot longer than it did for earlier legislation. Republican congressional leaders want to wait and see how the relief enacted so far plays out. But another round of legislative help will almost certainly happen at some point, and those negotiations are happening now, with a number of paid leave and healthcare provisions in the mix.
Democrats are pushing hard, for example, to expand the new emergency sick leave and FMLA leave requirements for employers with fewer than 500 employees to larger employers. This was in an earlier bill from House Democrats, so the paid leave debate is far from over.
On health care, business and labor is asking for COBRA subsidies to help furloughed or terminated employees keep access to employer coverage – as was done during the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
The CARES Act lets people in health plans with HSAs access telehealth before they’ve reached their deductible, and Congress and regulators are being urged to clear some additional barriers to broader use of telehealth by employers.
The business community also is supportive of proposals to help carriers and self-insured employer plans cope with the crisis – and to bolster the entire health care delivery system. There’s clearly a lot work to be done to help hospitals with capacity and supply issues and support frontline health care workers.
There’s much more to come on all of this – we’ll keep you posted.