Gephardt: What The Pandemic Means For Medical, Child Care Flex Spending Plans

Apr 3, 2020, 9:42 PM | Updated: 9:46 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Thousands of Utahns use flexible spending accounts to offset their child’s daycare expenses. But now that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced parents to make changes in their child care, can those flex spending plans roll with all these changes?

To find out, the KSL Investigators went to the Murray office of MBA Administrators. They handle the employee benefits for dozens of businesses.

CEO and owner Phyllis Merrill told us these days, many calls are from frightened employees.

“They’re frightened for their jobs. They don’t know the outlook,” said Merrill. “Many of them have been sent home to work…and that’s a blessing because many people across the country can do that but there are far more that cannot.”

A question Merrill and her associates often field concerns daycare. Many parents have set up dependent care flexible spending plans for child care expenses. But now that many daycare centers are closed, are they stuck having to contribute their money to the plan? Merrill said no.

Phyllis Merrill, owner and CEO of MBA Administrators, explains some of the implications the COVID-19 outbreak has on flexible spending plans.

“That’s a change in your family status so you can change that,” said Merrill. “In other words, you can elect or suspend during this period for those changes.”

Merrill said you do not have to wait for open enrollment when there is a change in provider, cost or coverage. Folks can even bump up their contribution if they suddenly need to hire a babysitter with schools closed.

Now, if you are furloughed, generally, contributions and reimbursements for both dependent care and medical flexible spending plans are put on hold until you go back to work.

If you lose your job, in most instances, you will lose the money you have already put into your plan. But you can still get reimbursed for expenses before your termination date, so don’t wait to submit those receipts.

“Ninety days is a pretty normal period,” Merrill said. “But you should always check with your plan document with your administrator.”

On your medical flexible spending plan, there are some qualifying events, such as loss of hours, taking FMLA leave that allow you to make changes now.

Higher medical expenses because of COVID-19 is not one of them. However, you now can use your flexible spending plan to get reimbursed for over-the-counter drugs, medical supplies and menstrual products.

Be sure to keep those receipts so you can submit those for reimbursement.

Families First Coroanvirus Response Act

On Wednesday, several new healthcare rights for employees defined by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) took effect and will be in place through Dec. 31, 2020.

These protections include up to two weeks of paid sick leave for full-time employees or a part-time employee’s two-week equivalent. Employees who need to take time off to care for someone else for reasons related to COVID-19 are entitled to receive two weeks of leave at two-thirds the rate of their normal pay.

Many Utah parents use a dependent care flexible spending plan to help offset daycare and babysitting costs during the workday.

Employers are also required to provide employees up to an additional ten weeks of paid family and medical leave at two-thirds of their normal pay rate. Again, this is for reasons related to COVID-19, such as having to care for a child whose school or daycare is closed because of the outbreak.

Companies with more than 500 employees are not subject to FFCRA. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees can be exempt from having to grant leave to folks who need to look after a child whose school or daycare is closed because of the coronavirus.

To get that exemption, those businesses will have to show how providing that leave threatens their viability.

Coronavirus Resources

How Do I Prevent It?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

How To Get Help

If you’re worried you may have COVID-19, you can contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 to speak to trained healthcare professionals. You can also use telehealth services through your healthcare providers.

Additional Resources

If you see evidence of PRICE GOUGING, the Utah Attorney General’s Office wants you to report it. Common items in question include toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, certain household cleaners, and even cold medicine and baby formula. Authorities are asking anyone who sees price gouging to report it to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or 800-721-7233. The division can also be reached by email at consumerprotection@utah.gov.

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Gephardt: What The Pandemic Means For Medical, Child Care Flex Spending Plans