Are COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination Programs Subject to ERISA?

Are COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination Programs Subject to ERISA?

  • Learn about the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) in regard to COVID-19 testing and vaccination programs.
  • Discover two specific plans for offering testing and vaccination to employees.
  • Learn about other applicable laws related to COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

As of this writing, many public health experts are cautiously optimistic about the future in terms of COVID-19. They believe cases, hospitalizations, and deaths related to COVID-19 will continue to trend downward or remain at manageable levels. The United States might finally be moving from pandemic to endemic. But as we “return to normal,” how will we deal with COVID-19 testing and vaccinations in the workplace? Fiducial has the information you need!

Many employers can, finally, greenlight their full “return to office” plans. As part of such a plan, some organizations are considering on-site COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. This will guard against an outbreak that could cripple productivity or even shut down an office or facility.

One common question that arises in response to the idea is: Will a program offering COVID-19 testing, vaccinations or both be subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)?

Are COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination Programs Subject to ERISA?

Two ways to go about it

The answer depends on the structure and operation of the program. How exactly does an arrangement qualify as an ERISA welfare benefit plan? It must be a plan, fund, or program established or maintained by an employer to provide ERISA-listed benefits, which include medical services. Here are a couple of ways you could go about offering testing and vaccination:

Augment your existing plan

Your organization could offer COVID-19-related services as part of an existing employer-sponsored group health plan, such as major medical coverage, that’s already subject to ERISA. In fact, group health plans and insurers — but not employers themselves — must cover certain COVID-19 diagnostic and preventive services, including vaccines. Providing the services through an existing plan, however, means they’d be available only to plan participants. Unfortunately, this might not include every employee.

Create a standalone arrangement

You could offer COVID-19 testing and vaccination apart from your existing health plan. In this instance, the program would have to be evaluated for ERISA status on its own.

COVID-19 tests and vaccines are considered medical care. So, whether the program must comply with ERISA depends on whether other conditions for ERISA plan status are met. A program that doesn’t require an “ongoing administrative scheme” may not qualify as a “plan, fund, or program” subject to ERISA. However, if ongoing administration is necessary, the arrangement is likely an ERISA plan.

Other applicable laws for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations

An ERISA welfare benefit plan that provides medical benefits is a group health plan. This makes it subject to additional ERISA requirements and potentially triggers application of other laws — including the Affordable Care Act. But you might be able to structure the services to limit your compliance obligations.

For example, offering COVID-19 testing and vaccination through an on-site medical clinic or an employee assistance program could implicate ERISA, including ERISA’s group health plan rules. However, the program might be treated as an “excepted benefit” exempted from many ACA requirements and other group health plan rules.

Employers providing COVID-19 testing and vaccination directly or through an agent can also face obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These actions generally involve medical examinations or disability-related inquiries, which fall under the ADA’s purview.

Finally, remember your obligation to maintain the confidentiality of employees’ health information. These obligations apply to employers under the ADA and to group health plans under HIPAA. Also restricted under HIPAA is the ability of a group health plan to disclose employees’ health information to the employer sponsoring the plan.

A wide array

As you can see, there are a wide array of compliance considerations when establishing an employment-based COVID-19 testing and vaccination program. Discuss the details with legal counsel before making any decisions or communicating anything to employees. Fiducial can help you evaluate the idea from a cost perspective.

Call Fiducial at 1-866-FIDUCIAL or make an appointment at one of our office locations to discuss your situation.

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For more small business COVID-19 resources, visit Fiducial’s Coronavirus Update Center to find information on SBA loans, tax updates, the Paycheck Protection Program, paid sick and family leave.