By Dane Rianhard
Over 51 million Americans have filed for unemployment since COVID-19 struck. But for the most part, they haven’t lost their health insurance. An astounding 98 percent of workers who had employer-sponsored health benefits before the pandemic are still enrolled in workplace plans, according to a July report.
That encouraging statistic ought to debunk the notion that America needs to move toward a government-run, single-payer system. If our employer-sponsored health insurance system can withstand the worst pandemic and unemployment crisis in a century, it’s worth keeping.
Employers, insurers, and agents and brokers all deserve credit for the resilience of this system. Consider that many businesses have continued providing health benefits, even when they’ve been forced to furlough employees. The Walt Disney Company is paying 100 percent of health insurance costs for its furloughed employees for up to a year. Hotelier Marriott is also continuing to provide benefits, as are GE, the big three automakers, and countless small businesses across America.
Keeping laid-off employees on company health plans is just one way to protect workers. As COVID cases have climbed, new health needs have emerged — and employers are meeting the challenge. One survey of 816 employers found that nearly half have enhanced their employee health benefits in response to the crisis. Retailers like CVS and Walmart are offering additional paid sick leave to employees who fall ill or need to quarantine. Apple has expanded its mental wellness benefits to help homebound employees cope with anxiety.
Many private insurers have created special enrollment periods for workers who had previously declined to join their company health plans. This has allowed people — especially Americans who might have obtained coverage through a spouse’s employer pre-pandemic — to get the care they need.
Employer and insurers are also sheltering employees from high out-of-pocket costs associated with COVID-19 treatment. Employer-sponsored health plans now cover all COVID-19 diagnostic testing and related services with no cost-sharing for workers. Some plans go even further. Blue Cross Blue Shield is waiving out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus treatment at in-network facilities. UnitedHealthcare waived cost sharing for COVID-19 testing and testing-related visits for its members indefinitely. 
Behind many of these efforts to protect and enhance employee health benefits are America’s 100,000 health insurance agents and brokers. These professionals serve as advocates for their clients in the insurance marketplace, vetting plans for companies and helping resolve coverage disputes.
This expert advice is necessary now more than ever. Brokers and agents are advising companies on how to get the most value out of their current plans and helping them navigate the loan and grant programs available through the recent federal stimulus packages.
When the pandemic first hit, many pundits predicted that widespread layoffs would cause tens of millions of people to lose their health insurance. But that nightmare scenario hasn’t happened — thanks to the employers, insurers, and agents who’ve made our current insurance system so resilient.
Dane Rianhard is President of the National Association of Health Underwriters and a Founding Principal of Maryland-based Tribridge Partners. To find an agent near you, visit nahu.org/looking-for-an-agent/find-an-agent.
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