COVID-19 pandemic and the implications for employee support and benefits

Authors: Kristin Sampson Michelle Bishop Dave Richter


This article was originally published by AIRINC author Gerald Abbey, with Gallagher contributors Kristin Sampson, Michelle Bishop and Dave Richter, on February 12, 2021. AIRINC is a workforce globalization company that provides compensation insights, allowances, technology and advice to facilitate global and domestic mobility. Article republished with permission.

AIRINC sat down with Gallagher to discuss some of the many issues that have arisen in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this limited blog post series, we address the implications for the future of business, employee support and benefits, and share many real-life case studies.

Four COVID-induced benefit challenges for companies

COVID-19 has created many challenges for employers. Protecting the physical, emotional, financial and career wellbeing of employees has become more complex. Here are four challenges to consider:

Challenge #1: Many companies had employees stranded when borders were closed and flights stopped. Some employees are still trapped today and have now transitioned to remote worker status. This required discussion with medical insurance companies to make sure that coverage was in place and could be extended, as well as many other factors.

Solution: When borders started closing, we were getting calls from both clients and their assistance company informing us of what was happening. In the short term, we were able to assure our clients with stranded business travelers that their Out-of-Country Medical and Business Travel Accident insurance would provide coverage for urgent and emergent medical care for up to 180 days. In the early days that seemed more than adequate.

We did have an additional complication in that we have a large number of clients that have added leisure travel benefits. Dave Richter of the Multinational Benefits & HR Consulting team, whose firm, Richter International Consulting, LLC, merged with Gallagher, was a pioneer in offering leisure travel medical insurance benefits to companies, so we were also faced with a large number of employees on vacation with their families who were in the same situation. We were able to confirm with our insurance partners that these employees and their accompanying dependents would also be covered for up to 180 days.

The insurance policies that we had in place provided blanket coverage for employees and accompanying dependents for urgent and emergent care. The policies we write typically have $0 deductible and pay 100% of medical expenses up to $350,000 or $500,000 (in some cases up to $1 million) per member per year, and there are no pre-existing condition limitations.

2020 has been a strange year in that months seem to just keep rolling on. The passage of time is unlike any other year we have experienced. And so we found ourselves in August starting to confront situations where employees were starting to approach 180 days of exposure outside of their home country or country of employment. We approached our insurance partners and were able to negotiate an extension on the coverage period. Our long-term working relationships with these insurers really paid off in these uncertain times. We have found over the years that we can count on them to hold up their share of the bargain and we really pleased with their flexible and accommodating response.

Challenge #2: Some employees had significant medical events. For example, a pregnant traveler from the U.K. who was stuck in India for five months. This required restructuring her travel medical insurance to cover pre-natal care, delivery and coverage for the baby.

Solution: We have access to a range of insurance products through our insurance partners. In this case, we needed a comprehensive medical plan that would cover routine pre-natal pregnancy care, delivery and coverage for the newborn baby. And, since the non-employee husband was also stranded, we needed to cover him, too.

One option would have been to put the family on a full Expat Medical plan. That is an expensive proposition, so we opted for a compromise product that provided full coverage in India, but would not provide coverage once she and the family returned to the U.K. She didn't need coverage in the U.K. because that was already provided by her employer. This ended up being a great solution. Cost effective, but not scrimping on benefits. And we have good news: Healthy baby delivered in August!

Challenge #3: Employees with medical issues that needed to be evacuated: Medical evacuations during COVID-19 have been very challenging. With fewer commercial flights, some routine evacuations that could have been done with a medical escort on a commercial flight have instead required air ambulances with fees exceeding $100,000 versus less than $10,000 in pre-COVID days.

Solution: We have partnered with best-in-class insurers who have stepped up and honored their commitment to cover medical evacuations when recommended by the assistance company physician managing the case. We are often involved operationally when the case is opened with the assistance company and work as a liaison with the insurance company to make sure that timely authorization is provided. If there is a need, we can also reach out to the head of the claims department to lobby on behalf of the client. These are relationships that we have built up over 20 years and that are unmatched in the industry.

Challenge #4: Employees hired to new jobs who could not travel to the country of employment: These employees have required medical insurance and other compliance considerations to be put in place from the time of hire until they are able to get to their country of hire.

Solution: We have been able to set up insurance policies for these employees that cover them for urgent and emergent care. We channel cases through the assistance vendor, so that they have access to a physician to help them manage their medical needs and then drive the claims through existing insurance policies.

Author Information

Kristin Sampson

Kristin Sampson

Area Vice President, Global Mobility, Multinational Benefits & HR Consulting

Michelle Bishop

Michelle Bishop

UK Growth Leader, Global Mobility Centre of Excellence

Dave Richter

Dave Richter

Area Senior Vice President, Global Risk Solutions – COE, Multinational Benefits & HR Consulting