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Coronavirus surprise: IRS allows midyear insurance and FSA changes

Michelle Andrews, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

The economic upheaval and social disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic have upended the assumptions many people made last fall about which insurance plan to sign up for, or how much of their pretax wages to sock away in health or dependent care flexible spending accounts.

You may find yourself in a high-priced health plan you can no longer afford because of a temporary pay cut, unable to get the medical care you might have planned and budgeted for, or not sending the kids to day care. Normally you'd be stuck with the choices you made unless you had a major life event such as losing your job, getting married or having a child. But this year, things may be different.

Last month, the Internal Revenue Service announced it would let employees add, drop or alter some of their benefits for the remainder of 2020. But there's a catch: Your employer has to allow the changes.

The new guidance applies to employers that buy health insurance to cover their workers as well as those that pay claims on their own, called self-insuring. It's unclear how many employers will take advantage of the new flexibility to offer what amounts to a midyear open enrollment period. If you're wondering what your company will do, ask.

"If a consumer finds themselves economically strapped and their finances have changed, and they're in a situation where they really would like to rethink their coverage, they may want to approach their employer and see if they're planning to adopt any of these changes," said Jay Savan, a partner at human resources consultant Mercer.

Some health care policy experts are unimpressed with the new coverage options, noting that earlier this spring the Trump administration opted not to create a special enrollment period for uninsured workers to buy subsidized health insurance on the Affordable Care Act's health insurance marketplaces.

 

"It's not likely that many people will take up this new coverage opportunity, and it won't address the problem of lack of coverage that many people are facing," said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University's Center on Health Insurance Reforms.

Assuming you still have employer-sponsored coverage, here are examples of circumstances workers may face and what the IRS changes could mean for them.

You want to switch to a cheaper plan to put more money into savings during these uncertain times. Can you do that?

If your employer decides to allow it, you can.

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