In breaking news, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) a pandemic.
Why Your CEO May Care
While the escalating spread of novel coronavirus will have a continued impact on business, actions taken by employers can support its mitigation. Employers have already mobilized in response. In recent weeks companies have been updating emergency preparedness plans, reviewing and updating corporate policies related to travel, leave, and work from home; as well as considering implications to insured medical and life plans.
This week Italy expanded quarantine measures to include the entire country and it’s sixty million people. The public health system is being pushed to its limits with the number of cases in danger of exceeding capacity of resources.
In the U.S., as cases rise, so too do headlines of individuals’ experiencing surprise billing, or concern over the potential out of pocket cost related to COVID-19 medical care. These discussions highlight some of the existing challenges and opportunities with the health care delivery system and are now getting special attention given the public health impact if infected individuals avoid seeking medical attention.
What Employers Can Do
The WHO suggests four key areas of focus: Prepare and be ready. Detect, protect and treat. Reduce transmission. Innovate and learn. Here’s how an employer can apply them:
Prepare and be ready – Update emergency preparedness plans. Ensure your communication strategy is consistent, fact based and informs employees of the actions the company is taking now as well as what may potentially change should the situation continue to escalate. Educate employees about the symptoms and hygiene considerations such as handwashing and covering your cough.
Detect, protect and treat – In countries outside the U.S., review insured plans to identify any exclusions related to the novel coronavirus. Should you identify any, work with your consultant to negotiate a waiver of such exclusions. In the U.S., some health plans are mitigating costs associated with testing and treatment. Employers should review existing coverage policies with their health plan partners and inquire if their partners have moved to reduced or zero out-of-pocket cost for coronavirus testing or treatment. This is an option for all group health plans, including HSA/HDHPs. Also consider your employees’ emotional well-being. Promoting EAP offers employees a way to address anxiety. Additionally, The World Health Organization has published mental health advice.
Reduce transmission – To mitigate further spread of the disease it is imperative that people do not come to work if they are sick. Communicate a strong message that employees should stay home if they are exhibiting symptoms. Other circumstances may also warrant that an employee stay home, such as: their geography is in quarantine, schools close resulting in children being home, they have recently traveled to certain locations, or they were in contact with an individual who tested positive for the virus. To accommodate this, ensure that telecommuting policies are updated and that you determine what sick leave or pay practices will apply to those in roles not conducive to remote working when they cannot come into work.
Innovate and learn – Digital solutions such as telemedicine have been a growing trend. Promote telemedicine to enable employees to obtain care, have their medical needs assessed, and reduce unnecessary burden on local hospitals or facilities for health needs that do not require more acute care. Some employers have waived fees associated with telehealth coverage to further encourage its use. Stay up to date on the latest information from reputable sources such as the CDC and WHO. As health experts learn more about the novel coronavirus, its transmission and mortality rate, new guidance becomes available.
A pandemic has been declared. But together, with responsible actions, we can change the course. For that to happen, it is crucial that everyone – policy makers, business community and individuals - take the necessary actions to mitigate the spread and eventually contain the virus.
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External Coronavirus Resources
- World Health Organization: Getting Your Workplace Ready for COVID-19
- World Health Organization
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Mapping of the coronavirus by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering
- At a Glance Visual of the Coronavirus
- CDC: Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers
- Coronavirus Map: Tracking the Spread of the Outbreak