With many employees pausing paramedical care during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, two benefits experts weigh in on letting workers carry coverage over to 2021.
Kevin Mcfadden, president of Mcfadden Benefits
In the 30 years I’ve been advising employers in the benefits marketplace, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted our industry unlike any other event. Many positives have materialized such as the advancement of virtual medicine, virtual pharmacy and an intensified focus on mental-health support. The challenges are obvious, with many employers struggling to survive while keeping their employees whole by continuing benefits coverage.
Many employees have been unable to access services that would be reimbursed under their employee benefits programs. Services such as routine dental work, optical check-ups and paramedical appointments have been limited since the start of the global pandemic last March. So, the debate presents itself, should employees be allowed to carry over unused paramedical allocations from 2020 to 2021?
While it’s not been fair that employees haven’t been able to fully utilize their benefit programs, I don’t believe a carry-over of unused benefits is prudent. The additional claims created from a carry-over translates directly to additional benefits costs borne by both employers and employees. When many businesses and families are struggling to stay above water financially, any change to benefit-consumption policies increases costs and will strain corporate and family budgets. Now is a time to constrict and not contract benefit-cost exposure.
The complexity of trying to establish a formula to allocate unused room and administer it would be a nightmare. While altruistic and well meaning, allowing a paramedical maximum carry-over does not, in my opinion, have enough merit to outweigh the obvious downsides.
Corey Vermey, director of the pensions and benefits department at Unifor
The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed workers’ lives, from the added stress of isolation, grief, and, for many, the loss of both income and workplace drug plan coverage.
Allowing the carry-over of annual paramedical coverage is a modest acknowledgement; and extending coverage to those have lost their benefits-plan coverage is the more compelling approach to a fair, inclusive and resilient economic recovery.
For those who’ve found the pandemic to be at most inconvenient, it’s tempting to simply hope to return to the old status quo. That status quo before the pandemic took hold, however, was for most an unrelenting series of crises raging from worsening income inequality, a woefully inadequate social safety net and perilous climate change — and for so many, an unjust, anti-democratic and divisive time.
The burden of this pandemic fell disproportionately on workers in key sectors and on the frontlines of the essential services we have come to rely on, such as health care and retail — as well as workers in hard-hit sectors such as travel and hospitality.
Yet the reality of a more just economy and inclusive society is within our grasp.
Now is the time for employers to rethink their role in society. Are they going to be part of this dialogue about the future health of our communities and our planet, and the creation of long-term value and prosperity, in the broadest sense of those words?
This is about creating an economy that works for all. A carry-over of paramedical coverage, or the extension of such coverage to those that lost their insurance coverage, is a small down-payment towards a fair, inclusive and resilient recovery.