My thoughts back in June were that the situation with COVID and a safe return-to-work policy was too complex for employers to manage without too much unnecessary risk. Here in October, my recommendations are still that employers use their employees’ doctors to take on the risks about return to work and COVID testing and treatment.
Employers should rely heavily on the Governor’s office for directives and asking employees with symptoms or exposure to have a doctor clear them — doctors are expected to make discriminatory decisions that employers can’t safely make.
However, there are basic preventive actions, policies and programs employers should be implementing company-wide around COVID-19-related health, wellness and safety: wearing masks; practicing social distancing; washing hands more; and being careful to avoid coughing, sneezing or breathing over each other.
Employees who exhibit symptoms of COVID exposure should stay home until a doctor releases them. Often, this can be two weeks. If an employer can’t afford to continue paying a worker to work from home, it is problematic — since others who can’t miss a paycheck will be compelled to stay quiet about exposure and/or symptoms.
There is still confusion about the different types of testing and the specificity (false positive and false negative percentages). Antibody vs PCR vs antigen testing is often confused by the lay public (even by media, in fact, but less now than a few months ago).
Testing result times are now at 24 hours, but during the last Arizona surge it was taking seven to 10 days. What the public should understand is, doctors’ offices and labs are subjected to the same slow-downs as other businesses when COVID infects their employees, too.
Rapid PCR tests are 15 minutes, but it’s difficult for individual practices to get the machines, and government is allocating placement of the machines (presumably because there are shortages). Also, the rapid tests tend to be less accurate than the regular lab tests — there are more false negatives and false positives (meaning the tests can miss active COVID or identify active infection that is not present). This blog post offers an easy-to-understand review of this topic.
At Redirect Health, we’ve had very good success getting people’s tests paid for by the CARES ACT here in Arizona and around the country.
Trending Areas for Employee Healthcare Benefits outside of COVID
Many employees don’t have health insurance, don’t have doctors, or can’t afford the out-of-pockets with the insurance they do have. Into this breach, employers are sometimes offering to pay for testing and treatment. Virtual is the most cost-effective option in many scenarios. Inexpensive self-pay options keep the cost for a virtual consult, testing, interpretation and treatment to around $49 when the appropriate safety nets and new rules are used.
Unfortunately, small-business insurance has become even more unaffordable because premiums have increased like they do every year, and employee wages are now even more stressed — sort of a double whammy.
Redirect Health manages employers’ self-insurance programs. By proactively eliminating unnecessary activity and spending in healthcare, the overall costs are typically lowered by half or better. The goal is to figure out a way to get costs low enough so employers can offer it to all their employees for very low cost or even free.
Many employees can’t afford their employers’ plans. Either the monthly premium is too high or the services aren’t covered until large deductibles are paid by the employee. We’re seeing many more people look for other options, which include going to self-pay or joining a medical cost-sharing community. Redirect Health has programs for individuals who don’t see their employers’ plan as feasible. And COBRA is rarely a pragmatic option for employees after they’ve been laid off.
Some employers who can’t afford any form of healthcare plan have purchased credits for their employees for Virtual Primary Care Visits. Most employers we work with feel they must solve the cost and lack-of-access problems for their employees if they are going to mandate testing and treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
David F. Berg, D.C.
President and Founder
Read the other “As Business Changes, So Will Our Healthcare” perspectives.