How the New Administration Could Affect Employee Benefits


With Joe Biden now firmly ensconced in the White House, all eyes are on the Democrat party and what they plan to do on a number of hot topics. At center stage are coronavirus relief and healthcare. Federal action on both could end up having a significant impact on employee benefits. That impact could be good or bad, depending on your perspective.

Employee benefits have long been used as a recruiting and retention tool. Companies in need of top talent put together attractive benefits packages in hopes of convincing the best in their industry to come work for them. They maintain those packages as a way of keeping employees from leaving and going elsewhere in the future.

As we all know, employer-sponsored health insurance is the backbone of most employee benefits packages. This is why Washington spends so much time obsessing over it. It is so important to so many people that politicians use it for their own purposes. It has been that way since the 1970s.

Changes to Open Enrollment

So, what can we expect from the new administration in terms of employee benefits? BenefitMall, a general agency with years of experience in the benefit sector, suggested in a recent blog post that changes to open enrollment might be on the way. The post specifically mentioned a Trump administration rule that reduced open enrollment to 45 days. Expect that rule to be discarded by the Biden administration.

The new administration might also push for introduction of a special enrollment period to accommodate people affected by the coronavirus crisis. The thinking is that it is unfair to make people without health insurance wait until the next open enrollment period if they are already facing coronavirus-related healthcare expenses.

Changes in Health Insurance Options

The biggest change for health insurance brokers and employers alike could be in the insurance options available to them. Under the previous administration, carriers were given quite a bit more flexibility in dealing with Essential Health Benefits in relation to Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirements. The new administration is likely to roll back previous rules that granted carriers the extra flexibility.

This will very likely result in changes to health insurance options. It is possible that high deductible plans will either be significantly curtailed or done away with completely. Short-term health insurance plans could also be eliminated. We could very well be headed back to how health insurance was sold under the Obama administration.

The Individual Mandate Question

Employers hoping the Supreme Court will completely invalidate the ACA when it renders its next decision this summer probably shouldn’t get their hopes up. Questions posed by the justices in the fall of 2020 seem to indicate they will rule in favor of the ACA. That means the employer mandate is likely to remain intact. That may not be the case for the individual mandate.

It is quite possible the Supreme Court will recognize the severability of the individual mandate from the rest of the legislation. If so, employees still won’t be required by federal law to purchase employer-sponsored health insurance. But where will they go otherwise?

Medicare for all is still on the table. However, it could take years to get it through Congress. In the meantime, employers and employees are left with the task of getting as many people covered as possible.

2021 could see a number of significant changes to employee benefits, particularly in the health insurance arena. We do not yet know what those changes will be. However, one thing is for certain: benefits packages will be impacted by whatever the Biden administration chooses to pursue.

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