The Covid-19 public health emergency ended last week, but that doesn’t mean the virus isn’t a concern anymore, particularly for employers, said one expert.
“Covid is now part of the natural viral ecosystem that we have,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, population health leader of Willis Towers Watson, in an interview. “We don’t know how frequently there will be a burst of new infections. … But in the meantime, we’ll now think about Covid like we think about everything else.”
That’s why Levin-Scherz published a newsletter on Friday about what the end of the public health emergency means for employers. Here are seven things he thinks employers should know:
- Covid-19 vaccinations
Employer-sponsored insurance must still cover Covid-19 vaccines. Currently, the federal government is paying for vaccines and employer-sponsored health insurance pays for an administration fee. But come this fall, employers will have to pay for vaccines themselves.
However, many employers will likely stop mandating Covid-19 vaccines in their workplace, and many already have, Levin-Scherz said.
- Over-the-counter Covid-19 tests
Employers are not required to cover rapid antigen at-home tests, and most will likely stop covering them, Levin-Scherz predicted. This is “consistent with general health plan design” as health plans typically don’t cover over-the-counter items, he said.
“The cost of these tests is probably going to go way down, and that’s good because people should have access to these,” he added.
- Laboratory Covid-19 tests
Employers won’t be required to cover out-of-plan PCR tests, nor will they be required to waive member cost-sharing for the tests. Instead, PCR tests will be covered the way other diagnostic tests are covered, meaning employees will likely need a prescription from a physician.
- Covid-19 medications
Employers won’t have to waive cost sharing on Covid-19 medications (like Paxlovid) anymore. The federal government is still providing the medication and employers are responsible for administration fees. But once federal supply runs out, employers will have to pay for the drug.
Many Covid-19 telehealth flexibilities were extended. Last week, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it would extend telemedicine flexibilities for the prescribing of controlled substances through November 11. This allows physicians to virtually prescribe controlled substances without an in-person exam. The extension comes after the DEA released a proposed rule in February that would roll back some of the flexibilities.
Employers will likely continue to provide coverage for virtual care, and some will continue lower cost sharing for virtual care, Levin-Scherz said.
- Workplace protection
During the pandemic, many employers worked to reduce the transmission of Covid-19, such as by improving air exchange and filtration, allowing employees to work remotely and providing sick time.
“For many employers, that actually has made for healthier work sites and hopefully a lot of them will continue those things,” Levin-Scherz said.
- Mental health
Since 2019, the prevalence of anxiety and depression has tripled. Virtual care helped many Americans gain access to mental health support: most virtual visits are for mental health. Because of this, it’s important for employers to continue to provide access to mental health care.
“If there’s one key message, it would be to continue to focus on the need to offer a lot of access to mental health,” Levin-Scherz said. “Coming out of the pandemic, there is just an enormous amount of need in the mental health space.”
Photo: santima.studio, Getty Images