Benefits administrator blog from Delta Dental

Tag: COVID-19 (Page 1 of 2)

Employer considerations for COVID-19 vaccines

The speed and efficacy with which COVID-19 vaccines have been developed is a testament to human ingenuity and the drive to create a safer world for us all. The three vaccines that are widely available in the U.S. (Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson) have all received emergency authorization by the FDA after demonstrating both efficacy and safety, but there are still some points you may want to consider when deciding on how your company should approach a vaccine policy.

What are my options as an employer?

There are three main courses of action you could take when it comes to employees and vaccines:

  • Do nothing. This means choosing not to implement a company-wide vaccine policy and not advocating for and encouraging vaccinations. Doing nothing may not be the optimal choice from a public health perspective, but it’s certainly a valid one from a legal standpoint. Mandating or incentivizing vaccination could help to reduce increased costs or absenteeism from employees, but it can also expose your company to legal liability depending on how such policies are implemented (and how litigious employees are).
  • Encourage and incentivize vaccination. This is a gentler approach than outright mandating vaccinations as a condition of continued employment. Encouraging employees to get vaccinated is legally safe, although it may run the risk of upsetting employees who don’t believe in vaccination, who have concerns about vaccine safety, who have health considerations that keep them from getting vaccinated or who simply don’t like feeling pressured when it comes to managing their health. Incentives, such as offering paid time off or a bonus to employees who get vaccinated, must be carefully implemented, however. Aside from the cost considerations that comes with bonuses and incentives, you may find yourself legally liable for any issues that arise if you implement on-site vaccinations.
  • Mandate vaccination. This is an aggressive option, but it’s certainly the most effective from the point of prioritizing the health and safety of employees. Mandating that employees get vaccinated is generally legal (although it may not be in some states), but it’s possible that some implementations of such a policy could put you at legal risk (for example, setting up on-site vaccinations or inquiring about employees’ personal health to determine their eligibility for vaccination).

Which employees should get vaccinated first?

Until vaccines become more widely available, it’s best to prioritize employees who are most vulnerable to exposure and at greatest risk of complications from COVID-19. Of course, in health care and senior care industries, everyone with regular contact with the ill and elderly should be vaccinated. Outside of these industries, consider prioritizing:

  • Employees who work in close physical contact
  • Employees who have regular exposure to customers and other members of the public
  • Employees who have regular exposure to heavily trafficked enclosed spaces, food products or other settings where infection may be a risk
  • Employees who are 65 or older
  • Employees who are 16–65 with underlying medical conditions that increase the risk of life-threatening COVID-19 complications

What are the risks of implementing a vaccine policy?

You could get into legal trouble if pre-screening vaccination questions aren’t job-related and consistent with the requirements of your business. To avoid this outcome, make sure that any pre-screening questions are related to the job and that you can prove that unvaccinated employees pose a direct threat to the health and safety of other employees. Similarly, you could get into legal trouble if you attempt to prevent workers’ concerted activity, such as expressing opposition to mandatory vaccines.

Make sure to follow state and local laws, as well. Some locales may have prohibitions against mandating vaccines that aren’t required by state or federal law.

Setting a policy and moving forward

Before settling on the policy that’s best for your company and your employees, there are a few final things to consider.

  • Make sure you follow all federal, state and local laws. You don’t want to put your organization at risk of legal exposure. Do some research to make sure you stay up-to-date on the latest laws and regulations.
  • Get a sense of how employees feel. If you have employees who feel very strongly about vaccines, either adopting a mandatory policy or doing nothing may cause disquiet. Taking surveys of employee sentiments can be a good way to decide how to craft your message.
  • Identify who should be doing the communication. Figures like respected managers, team leaders and union officials can be excellent ambassadors for your company’s policies, especially in larger organizations where employees may not have personal relationships with upper management.
  • Be transparent. As always, communication is key when it comes to rolling out new policies that can affect employees’ work lives. Let employees know both what your COVID-19 vaccine policy is and how that position was reached. Be sure to listen to and address employee concerns, even if your policy remains firm.

Regardless of what policy you decide to implement, wearing masks and respecting social distancing will stay important aspects of infection management. Even as vaccines become more readily available, maintain practices and procedures to minimize the chance of infection and help your entire organization stay healthy.

How COVID-19 is changing benefits in 2021

The global pandemic has had a profound impact on the way corporations attract, develop and maintain their human capital, and this includes changes to benefits packages. A June 2020 survey by Mercer found that some of the most common benefits changes that companies were considering in response to the pandemic included:

  • Expanding virtual health and telemedicine programs
  • Enhancing mental health support (including employee assistance programs)
  • Adding or expanding voluntary benefits

Have those predictions panned out? The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) conducted a survey of U.S. employers to determine how the way businesses think about offering benefits has changed because of COVID-19. This study has found a move towards telemedicine, mental health benefits, flexibility around leave and greater consideration given to cost-saving measures. 

Fewer in-office visits means more telemedicine coverage

From visiting the dentist to an unexpected trip to the emergency room, in-office visits of all kinds are down from 2019 rates. That doesn’t mean that people are necessarily receiving less care, though. According to the IFEBP survey, nearly nine out of 10 employers reported seeing an increase in the number of telehealth claims filed in 2020. Dental offices are safe to visit, but for employees who are trying to socially distance (or simply have difficulty fitting a trip to the dentist into their schedule), Delta Dental offers multiple virtual dentistry solutions.

Stress and isolation lead to a greater emphasis on mental health benefits

Mental health claims saw a sharp rise in 2020. As employees cope with the stress and isolation that living with the realities of COVID-19 can cause, adding or enhancing access to mental health care is a cost-saving move. The effects of stress, depression and anxiety may not be as visible as with other issues, but they are no less real. They can lead to missed work and physical health issues, and so they’re equally important to cover with mental health benefits or employee assistance programs that offer support to employees.

More flexibility in leave is required as life throws curveballs at everyone

It’s important to be compassionate and flexible when it comes to your employees’ physical and emotional needs. Parents and other caregivers have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic and may need additional support as they try to juggle their work and home lives. Emergency leave for child or elder care, flexible use of paid and unpaid leave and offering carryover options for workers who can’t use their current vacation days are becoming more common.

Voluntary plans are becoming more popular to help keep costs low

Finally, consider that it may be in your organization’s best interests to change the kind of benefits offered. Voluntary plans are a great way to ensure that those who want dental coverage can keep it, even if cost-saving measures become necessary. The Smile On program is also available to provide dental coverage to those who are transitioning out of the workforce.

Communication is key

No matter how your benefits may change in response to the pandemic, being transparent and honest with your employees is essential. By alerting employees to benefits changes, you can ensure that they won’t be caught by an unpleasant surprise. Additionally, letting your employees know when new benefits are available and how to make the most of them can help keep them happier and healthier.

Remote work and employers: what are the pros and cons?

In 2020, we all learned just how fast the world could adapt to new measures. In the workforce, this has meant relying on coworkers and employees to bring their work home without missing a beat. With a year passed since COVID-19 changed the world, it’s time to reflect on the first year as full-time remote employers, what has been learned from it, and how to continue to adapt moving forward.

Here’s a closer look at the pros and cons of remote working:

Pros

Flexibility

Working from home is far from a new concept. In fact, it’s often touted as a job perk by hiring managers. For employees, it often comes down to flexibility. Working remotely can be an opportunity schedule quick errands, focus in a less distracting environment or even to enjoy more time with the pets while still accomplishing the tasks at hand. The freedoms of remote work can be a major morale-booster. A study by PwC recently found that 55% of would like still to keep working from home at least three days a week once it’s safe to return to the office.

Lack of commute

Who wouldn’t choose walking to their living room over an hour commute on an over-stuffed train? Eliminating this often stressful part of the day saves time, money and headaches. It also takes more cars off the road, meaning less air pollution. In November, NASA announced that global nitrogen dioxide concentrations had been reduced by nearly 20% since February of 2020.

Larger pool of candidates

Eliminating a tough commute can also mean a more competitive job market. When people can work from anywhere, it widens the pool of potential candidates. For permanently remote jobs where location isn’t a requirement, employers can reap the benefits with a larger number of viable applicants.

Saved money

Less people in an office means a smaller office space, fewer everyday office expenses like supplies and cleanup, and less utilities at work. These kinds of savings aren’t just beneficial during uncertain times — they can be lucrative to new businesses trying to grow.

Cons

Blurred work/life balance

One of the more complicated issues to arise from remote working has been the stress of balancing a regular workday with our rapidly changing world. When the physical barrier of an office is removed, the lines between professional and personal lives can get a bit fuzzy. While flexible work hours may be a pro, they can become a slippery slope of overtime and burnout if left unchecked. In fact a recent Gallup poll showed that 29% of people who always work from home feel burnt out “very often” or “always.”

Encourage your staff to set up a corner of their home just for work if they can and to stay online for office hours only. Check in regularly to make sure that they feel heard and supported in their work endeavors.

Internet complications

We’ve all heard the horror stories: Someone forgot to mute themselves in a meeting or couldn’t figure out how to turn a Zoom filter off. In 2020, the learning curve got a bit steeper as our toolboxes grew along with our reliance on technology.

A little bit of training and empathy can go a long way in these cases. As expectations change, offer learning guides, webinars and other resources to help employees with the learning process. Additionally, understand that complications can occasionally arise when employees are at the mercy of Wi-Fi, laptops, and other far-from-perfect technologies.

Less organic opportunities for connection

With no watercooler to gather around, those little day-to-day opportunities for staff to connect can be tougher to find. Don’t let it wedge a gap between the team.

Schedule a little time for virtual team-building opportunities, be it a lunch meet-up or a Friday game hour. Take this time to focus on company values and consider how you can foster trust and communication.

As the world continues to change, take some time to reflect on how much you and your team have already adapted and give yourself credit where it’s due. Creating a culture of openness and empathy will help address issues as they arise and keep you connected to your team.

Common questions employees may have about the COVID-19 vaccine

As the COVID-19 vaccine is becoming more accessible throughout the country, you may find that employees are talking about it and asking questions. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of conflicting and inaccurate information being spread through various media channels. Staying on top of the truth can be a full-time job, but here’s a list of common questions and some points you can bring up in case you hear concerns about the vaccine.

Is the vaccine safe?

Yes. Multiple expert sources, such as the Mayo Clinic and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have attested to the vaccines’ safety. There are multiple reasons given why someone might be concerned about the vaccine’s safety, but the most common include:

  • Concerns about catching COVID-19 from a vaccine shot. There is no live virus used in the vaccines, so people who receive them can’t contract COVID-19.
  • Concerns about the vaccine damaging cells’ DNA. mRNA vaccines don’t alter cell DNA. Instead, they teach cells how to make a protein, which generates a response that will help the immune system target identical proteins in the COVID-19 coronavirus.
  • Concerns about the vaccines being developed recklessly or too quickly. The vaccines have been tested on tens of thousands of patients. Pfizer and Moderna have published ingredient lists for their vaccines, and the mRNA technology used to make the vaccines has been in development for over 30 years.

I’ve heard reports of people having aches, chills and other symptoms after getting vaccinated. Is this an issue?

No. Some people who have gotten the vaccine have reported muscle pain, chills and headaches, but that is not unusual for vaccines. These are part of the body’s normal immune response. But those who have had allergic reactions to vaccines in the past (which are due to the ingredients used in the vaccines), should first consult with their health care providers before receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

Should I still get a vaccine if I’ve had COVID-19 previously?

Yes. It’s not clear if having contracted COVID-19 previously grants long-term resistance and immunity, like having contracted chicken pox does. Even for those who have been infected previously, the CDC still recommends getting vaccinated.

COVID-19 doesn’t seem that deadly. Should I get a vaccine if I’m not in a high-risk category?

Yes. It’s true that as a percentage, most people who contract COVID-19 don’t die from it. Still, there can be serious long-term consequences such as lung, heart or brain damage. And even someone who doesn’t get seriously ill can still spread the disease among others who are more vulnerable. Getting a vaccine helps us protect not just our families and loved ones, but also society as a whole.

Once I’ve been vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask or socially distance?

Yes. Even if a person has been vaccinated, that doesn’t mean that he or she can’t still spread the virus. It takes at least 10 days for the body to develop antibodies to the virus, and the number of antibodies present only goes up with more time. Additionally, research hasn’t conclusively determined if the vaccines prevent asymptomatic infection and spread (although it is likely that they do). Wearing a mask and socially distancing are also good behaviors to model for those who haven’t been vaccinated yet. By getting vaccinated and following other preventive measures, we can all do our part to end the pandemic sooner!

I’ve heard that the vaccine contains a chip inside that lets the government and corporations track people who get vaccinated. Is this true?

No. Some syringe makers include a microchip within the labels of their products so that health care providers can track the shipping history and origin of doses of vaccine. There is no chip within the vaccine itself.

I heard that the vaccine targets a protein that occurs naturally in pregnant women and can cause fertility issues. Is this true?

No. An amino acid sequence is shared between COVID-19 and a placental protein found in pregnant women, but the sequence is too short to trigger an immune response by itself. COVID-19 vaccines won’t cause fertility issues in women.

Why dentist offices are safe

As your employees consider a visit to the dentist, they may be concerned about potential exposure to the coronavirus. Fortunately, the steps that dentists take to protect themselves, their staff and their patients from COVID-19 means that a trip to the dentist is actually quite safe. Here are the facts.

Dentists do all they can to make their office safe

As health care professionals, dentists and their staff follow strict infection control protocol. Over 99% of dentists have implemented enhanced infection prevention and control processes, according to the American Dental Association.

That hard work has certainly paid off; fewer than 1% of dentists nationwide have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the same study. That’s pretty impressive when you consider that dentists spend their days working on people’s mouths!

Here’s how dentists have accomplished this feat:

  • New technology has become more common as dentists’ offices have adapted to the realities of the pandemic. That means when people visit the dentist, they can expect to see machines like air purifiers, high-volume evacuators, infrared thermometers and hand sanitizer stations.
  • New processes such as rinses with disinfecting mouthwash and enhanced suction during cleanings and exams are now the norm at many dentists’ offices. These strategies help inactivate viruses in patients’ mouths and droplets in the air, allowing dentists to help fight the spread of infection. Dentists may also rely on teledentistry for exams rather than have patients come into the office.
  • New policies like having patients wait in the car to be seen and seeing fewer patients concurrently help reduce the risk of infection as well. The less time patients spend in the office and the fewer things they touch while there means less chance of exposure to COVID-19.

The steps take not prevent the spread of COVID-19 will vary from dentist office to office, but for a more in-depth overview of what your employees can expect, refer them to Grin!, our enrollee wellness e‑magazine.

Why employees might not want to visit the dentist (and why they should)

When people explain why they don’t want to go to the dentist during the pandemic, there are a few common reasons. It’s natural to have concerns about safety and costs, but it’s also important to realize that there are risks when it comes to avoiding the dentist as well.

  • “I want to socially distance as much as possible until I’ve been vaccinated.” This is a perfectly valid concern. At the same time, a visit to the dentist carries less risk of exposure than visiting other indoor areas. Dentists have the tools and training to minimize the spread of infectious diseases like coronavirus.
  • “I don’t want to sit in a crowded waiting room.” The good news is, dentists don’t want people sitting in crowded waiting rooms, either! That’s why they’ve taken steps like having patients wait in their cars, seeing fewer patients at a given time and removed waiting room furniture.
  • “I’m not in any pain, so I don’t need to see the dentist.” People who wait until they’re in pain to go to the dentist likely have issues such as severe cavities or infected root canals that could have been avoided if they’d gone in for regular cleanings and exams. Taking advantage of the diagnostic and preventive care offered with Delta Dental plans can help catch oral health issues before they become serious, and that helps to keep pain and costs down.
  • “My teeth look fine, so I don’t need to see the dentist.” It’s possible to develop oral health issues that aren’t obvious when looking in the bathroom mirror. Going to a dentist to detect issues like gum disease is important. Additionally, there are serious health issues that can have oral symptoms, such as diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer. A visit to the dentist can help detect these issues as well.
  • “I’m too busy to spend time finding a dentist or making it into the office.” It can be hard to find time away from work or school to make it to the dentist. Fortunately, teledentistry has made it easier than ever before to connect with oral health professionals from the comfort of your home or office. Additionally, Delta Dental will soon offer tools that can connect members with a Delta Dental PPO™ dentist for a dental diagnostic report or video consultation.

Don’t be afraid to go to the dentist

When it comes to the dentist’s office, your employees can rest easy knowing that they can stay safe and healthy when it’s time for a visit. That’s sure to be a smile on their face.

5 ways Delta Dental is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

Delta Dental is working to support our customers, dentists and local communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some of the ways we’re responding to this health and financial crisis.

1. Charitable giving to vital services

The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation has provided nearly $15 million this year to help nonprofits respond to the pandemic. These unrestricted grant funds have supported essential services, including dozens of dental and medical clinics serving low-income communities across our 15-state service area and the District of Columbia.

To help feed vulnerable communities during skyrocketing food insecurity, we’ve also contributed $2.5 million to food banks in Alabama, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New York, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

2. Dentist loan program

Partnering with Provide (formerly known as Lendeavor), Delta Dental has offered over $300 million in loan programs to provide economic relief for qualifying independent network dentists.

The loan program, which extends through the end of the year, covers cash flow relief as well as interest savings. It also includes loans that dentists can use to acquire, refinance, expand or equip a practice, as well as to acquire or refinance commercial real estate for a practice.

3. Relief for groups, individuals and brokers

We’ve offered various forms of premium relief to all lines of our business to help alleviate the financial strain of the pandemic on our individual customers and group clients. To provide further support, we’ve made adjustments to many of our contract policies to help clients weather the financial impact of the pandemic.

4. PPE and infection control reimbursement for dentists

The new costs of practicing during a pandemic have added to the financial strain on our network dentists. To help, Delta Dental launched a supplemental reimbursement program for network dentists.

The temporary program, which runs through the end of the year, is meant to help dentists adjust to the new conditions under COVID-19 as they plan for 2021. Under the program, network dentists receive an additional $10 per patient per qualifying service to help cover the costs of additional personal protective equipment and other infection control practices.

5. Teledentistry resources

Delta Dental has encouraged dentists and patients to consider teledentistry options for diagnostic and emergency dental services. Teledentistry, or virtual consultation via phone, text or video, offers a safe, convenient choice and can expand access to care for patients who might otherwise not see a dentist.

We’re offering discounts and free trials on HIPAA-compliant teledentistry services to Delta Dental dentists and are building partnerships with teledentistry companies to improve the experience for our customers and network dentists.

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