September 2, 2021

Employers Continue to Lead through the COVID-19 Pandemic


Employers understand they are in a position to lead and to make a meaningful difference for the health of their employees, communities and country.
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Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, employers have stepped up to lead, taking the actions necessary to protect their employees and their businesses. And the recent trend of vaccine mandates and incentives is just the latest example of that.

A plurality of PBGH’s nearly 40 members of large private employers and public health care purchasers have already mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees. One of the first was Walmart, with The Walt Disney Company and others following soon behind.

With full FDA approval of one COVID-19 vaccine, more employers will likely adopt mandates, incentives and penalties to encourage their employees to become vaccinated, particularly since other mitigation measures — ongoing testing, wearing masks, limited employees onsite – would likely be needed for years to come. The administrative burden of these approaches is expensive and disruptive.

Still, Delta Airlines recently announced that unvaccinated employees will face a health insurance surcharge of $200 per month, bringing fresh questions about additional steps employers are likely to take to encourage employees to get vaccinated.

“It’s very much like smoking surcharges, and it is not unreasonable,” Elizabeth Mitchell, PBGH CEO told Yahoo Finance. “People can choose to smoke. They can choose to be unvaccinated. But that comes with additional costs for health care, and companies are paying those costs. Families are paying those costs because they hit everybody’s premiums. So, it is not unreasonable to expect those who are incurring greater costs to actually contribute more.”

Keeping the Workforce Safe

Having employees vaccinated is in the best interest of the workforce. Employers offer health benefits to keep their workforce healthy and to attract and retain talent, and people want to know that they are working in a company where they will be safe.

We also cannot overlook the cost of what are avoidable illnesses and the massive economic crisis this presents to employers and American workers alike. The average hospitalization cost for COVID-19 for a privately insured patient is over $30,000. In June and July alone, COVID-19 hospitalizations among unvaccinated adults cost the U.S. health system roughly $2.3 billion. Large employers who are self-insured are paying those bills – and ultimately, so are American workers — who will see those costs reflected in their health insurance premiums. Those added costs also come out of wages and job growth, which ultimately hurts employees and their families.

The expectation that employees will be vaccinated before showing up for work, is shared by businesses and the American public alike. A recent USA Today and Ipsos poll reported 62% of participants support employers requiring workers to be vaccinated.

Practical Steps to Encourage Employees to Get Vaccinated

Beyond mandates and surcharges, there are practical policies employers can put in place to encourage employee vaccination rates. In a new report based on the insights from qualitative research, The Commonwealth Fund offers recommendations for employers contemplating COVID-19 vaccination requirements for their employees:

  • Provide honest, transparent and consistent messages.
  • Connect science to the workplace policy.
  • Demonstrate understanding that employees may feel unwell after receiving vaccinations and ensure policies support paid sick leave.
  • Make vaccination easy with vaccination pop-up clinics at the worksite or by providing employees with a list of local pharmacies offering vaccinations.
  • Consider and prepare for exemptions.

Click here for more information about these recommendations and how to apply them.

The human toll of COVID-19 on families has been enormous and employers understand they are in a position to lead and to make a meaningful difference for the health of their employees, communities and country.

We’ve seen PBGH members along with other businesses engage in a public-private partnership in which companies have joined state and federal governments in efforts to get more Americans vaccinated and to keep their communities safe. That’s what is required to put this pandemic behind us and get our economy and country back on track.

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