Protecting Nevadans from COVID-19 Scams: A Virtual Panel Event with NV Attorney General Aaron D. Ford and Fraud Experts

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC – This Thursday, October 22, the National Consumers League (NCL), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, will host a virtual fireside chat with Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford and a panel of consumer protection experts on the growing threat of scams linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. The consumer watchdog organization aims to raise awareness in Nevada about the risk of COVID-19 related fraud and arm consumers with information they can use to spot and avoid these scams.

Since the pandemic began, NCL, which operates the website Fraud.org, has seen an uptick in complaints about a variety of scams preying on increasingly vulnerable, financially strapped, and fearful consumers. Scammers running phishing schemes, stimulus check fraud, unemployment benefits scams, and immigration scams have all been working overtime to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to defraud consumers. The experts at NCL have watched these scams emerge, forecast they will continue to increase, and are eager to work with AG Ford to get the word out about how Nevadans can protect themselves.

WHAT

Virtual “fireside chat” featuring Nevada AG Aaron D. Ford and NCL, followed by a panel discussion on resources and tips to avoid COVID-19 fraud and scams.

WHEN

Thursday, October 22, 2020
2:00 PM – 3:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time

WHO

Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford
John Breyault, Vice President, National Consumers League

State Senator Dallas Harris, Consumer Rights Attorney, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada
Maria Moore, State Director, AARP Nevada
Assemblyman Edgar Flores, Immigration, Family, and Personal Injury, Gonzalez & Flores Law

HOW TO WATCH

YouTube Live link will be provided following registration via Eventbrite.

*** Members of the media are welcome to attend but must RSVP to Carol McKay, National Consumers League, carolm@nclnet.org. If you are unable to attend, a recording of the interview and panel can be provided upon request after the event concludes ***

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About the National Consumers League (NCL)

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

LifeSmarts consumer literacy program launches 2020-21 season with new online learning, scholarship, and community service opportunities for teens

September 14, 2020

Millions of student leaders have gained real-world knowledge through the program’s quarter-century of education and competition

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—Today marks the official launch of the 2020-2021 season of LifeSmarts, a national scholarship competition and educational program for middle-school and high-school students that tests knowledge of real-life consumer issues and is helping to create a future generation of consumer-savvy adults. A new season of LifeSmarts goes live online at LifeSmarts.org today. LifeSmarts is a program of the National Consumers League, the nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy watchdog.

“We are very excited to launch this season of LifeSmarts,” said Program Director Lisa Hertzberg. “For more than a quarter century, LifeSmarts has given students the skills they need to succeed as adults. We’ve seen more than 1.5 million students gain knowledge, confidence, leadership capabilities, and team-building skills. The competition is fun, and the impact of LifeSmarts is life-long.”

Education certainly looks different across the country this year, and LifeSmarts has tools to help. “No matter what modality schools are using, LifeSmarts has resources for educators and parents to use during this unique time,” said Hertzberg. “Developing smart and successful citizens, workers, and consumers is always our mission, and we’re here to help students and educators meet the challenges imposed by COVID-19.”

LifeSmarts focuses on five main content areas:

  • consumer rights and responsibilities
  • personal finance
  • technology
  • health and safety
  • and the environment

Each year, LifeSmarts competitors answer more than 3.5 million consumer questions about credit reports, recycling, nutrition, social media, state lemon laws, and everything in between. Students are quizzed on their knowledge of these subject areas during online competition. Top-performing teams then advance to statewide competitions, and state champion teams as well as several wildcard teams advance to the national championship held each year in a different American city.

The 2021 National LifeSmarts Championship is scheduled to take place in Cincinnati, Ohio, April 21-24, 2021.  LifeSmarts will host State Champion and Wild Card teams from both the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 program years, celebrating winning students in a first-ever double competition. If COVID-19 makes that impossible, NCL will host a virtual event. Winning team members receive scholarships and other prizes.

In addition to online, state, and national competitions, LifeSmarts recognition and awards occur throughout the program year:

  • Teams of students vie for cash prizes in the online TeamSmarts quiz, which focuses on a specific LifeSmarts content area each month from September through February.
  • Classroom mentor program: Five $1,000 scholarships are awarded each winter to winning LifeSmarts students who become LifeSmarts OTC Medicine Safety Mentors to educate younger students and community members about medicine safety. LifeSmarts thanks Johnson & Johnson for underwriting this important community service project.
  • Partnering with FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), 4-H, and FCCLA (Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America), LifeSmarts complements these organizations’ projects, judging events, competitive events, and activities. LifeSmarts offers special opportunities for members of these student leadership organizations.

LifeSmarts is active in all states and the District of Columbia, where NCL is headquartered.

“We are proud of the impact LifeSmarts has made in its 26 years of educating teens, and we are excited to continue to grow the LifeSmarts program, to educate students about financial literacy, and to create a new generation of savvy, market-ready consumers and workers,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “Too often traditional high school curriculum fails to teach students vital information that will be crucial once students go to college, get their first job, or move out of their parents’ house.”

In addition to hosting the official LifeSmarts competition, LifeSmarts.org provides resources for educators to supplement existing lesson plans. These include daily quizzes, educational videos, social media competitions, focused study guides, and scholarship opportunities. LifeSmarts lessons closely align with courses taught in family and consumer sciences, business, technology, health, and vocational education. Math and English teachers have also had success with LifeSmarts, as have homeschool and community educators.

Additional major LifeSmarts contributors include: AARP, American Express, Intuit, Melaleuca, Underwriters Laboratories, and WSECU, along with a number of state and local sponsors.

Visit LifeSmarts.org for more information.

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About LifeSmarts

LifeSmarts is a program of the National Consumers League. State coordinators run the programs on a volunteer basis. For more information, visit: LifeSmarts.org, email lifesmarts@nclnet.org, or call the National Consumers League’s communications department at 202-835-3323.

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Mail-in and absentee voting during COVID-19

By NCL Executive Assistant Adrienne Archer

The National Consumers League (NCL) wants consumers to know that voting by mail or absentee ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic is safe. Due to conflicting information being shared by the media, and federal, state and local governments, it can be difficult to determine how best to vote. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a voter should always focus on keeping themselves and their family safe and healthy. Whether voting by mail-in or absentee ballot, it’s important to have a plan. However, due to the variety of challenges posed by the pandemic, it might be difficult to keep up with the changes or updates to a state’s voting guidelines. Voters should contact their local elections office.

Many states and the District of Columbia have made it easier to vote early by mail or by absentee ballot. In the past, voters needed a reason why they couldn’t vote in person. National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) has resources for on state laws governing voting across the U.S. To know exactly when to vote in your state, contact your local elections office. USA.gov also offers information on the time frames for early or absentee voting.

All states will offer a form of mail-in voting and some states will make it more accessible to vote than others. Some states are still crafting legislation to make it easier for people to vote by mail or absentee ballot. The New York state legislature passed three bills allowing voters to request an absentee ballot or mail-in ballot because of COVID-19 fears. One of the bills allows for absentee ballots to be postmarked as late as election day and still be counted.

Government officials have noted possible instances of voter fraud. Some states have voiced concerns that mail-in ballots can easily be stolen, altered, or forged. Voters worry that they will not receive their ballot in time to vote. Congress is worried that the increase in mail will overwhelm the United States Postal Service (USPS) and delay the delivery of ballots. To add to the problems, the U.S. Postmaster General has made budget cuts to the USPS, dismantled machines, collected mailboxes, and reduced mail services causing consumers to worry that the USPS will not be able to process the increase in mail. Disability advocates want to ensure that mail-in voting will not be more difficult for voters with disabilities to exercise their right to vote.

Voting by mail is a safe option: it increases the overall voter response in the election. Even with these challenges to voting, military members and older Americans have been always encouraged to vote absentee. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided recommendations for people to handle mail-in ballots safely when they are received. In response to consumer requests, the USPS has created a website to help voters ensure that they can receive and return their ballot safely. Also, voters should remember that the main goal of voting during this pandemic is to safely cast their votes.

Americans voting from abroad, or in the military should be aware of the following: potential delays with sending and receiving mail, possible embassy closures due to COVID-19, and ensuring that their personal address is updated with his or her state. Americans abroad should request a ballot immediately from the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s website and check with their local U.S. polling place for instructions on receiving and returning the ballot. Most states permit Americans abroad to request a ballot via email with the caveat that a completed ballot should be returned by well before the November 3rd deadline via postal mail. Under Federal law, ballots should be requested by overseas military voters by September 19th (at least 45 days before the election). The Military Postal Agency has a list of recommended mailing dates. After individuals have returned their ballot, they should be sure to contact their local elections office to ensure that their ballot was received or if they have any questions.

Voting by mail has always been a good way to ensure access to those with disabilities. The American Civil Liberties Union has guidelines to improve accessibility to persons with disabilities. They suggest voters with a disability should receive ballots electronically so they can vote from the safety of their homes. Voters could indicate their candidate on the ballot by using accessibility features on his or her device. Then the ballot should be printed and mailed to his or her local polling place. Some states require witnesses or notarization on the ballot envelope. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wants to dispense with this requirement. Election poll workers should receive training on accessible voting options and how to respectfully interact with voters with a disability. Lastly, every state should raise awareness about accessible voting options.

In summary, to effectively vote by mail or absentee ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Consumers League suggests these steps:

  1. Create a plan for voting by mail or via absentee ballot.
  2. Check your local polling office to ensure that it has your correct mailing address and you are eligible to vote in the upcoming election.
  3. Request your absentee or mail-in ballot NOW, well before the deadline of October 3rd (45 days before the election) from your local polling office.
  4. If voting from abroad or in the military, allow for extra time to request and receive your ballot.
  5. If you have a disability, every state has in place accommodations so you may vote safely and effectively. If you have questions, please contact your local polling place early so they may be resolved.
  6. When you get your ballot, review the instructions for completing and returning it. If you have questions, contact your local polling office for guidance.
  7. Mail-in your ballot immediately, in advance of your state’s deadline, allowing for time for it to be reviewed and counted.

Above all, vote, vote, vote!

Consumer literacy program for teens launching new season year

LifeSmarts, the nation’s premier consumer program, has never been more relevant. Launching its 27th year this fall, our consumer literacy educational program and scholarship opportunity for teens provides real-world education for students on core consumer topics and develops critical thinking skills. LifeSmarts curriculum covers five key topic areas: consumer rights and responsibilities, the environment, health and safety, personal finance, and technology. LifeSmarts is creating consumer savvy young people who will be well equipped for adult life in today’s complex, global marketplace.

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic this spring, the LifeSmarts program has pivoted to help newly at-home educators, students, and parent-educators make use of the many free educational resources the program provides.

NCL’s LifeSmarts staff created new resources to help students learn from home during this challenging time:

  • New Weekly Quizzes provide an opportunity for students to quiz independently, while allowing coaches to track student scores and progress.
  • LifeSmarts Adventure, the LifeSmarts app, has been relaunched. The app takes competitors on a virtual road trip as they quiz on all LifeSmarts topics.
  • Quality third-party LifeSmarts resources have been vetted and shared with our audience. These include practice sets developed by LifeSmarts, coaches, and coordinators using a variety of online study platforms.
  • Coaches receive weekly program updates featuring LifeSmarts resources to enhance online learning.
  • The LifeSmarts.org home page has been refreshed to focus on learning from home.

The LifeSmarts 2020-2021 season launches next month! This year, the program will offer new and exciting ways for educators and students to get involved in LifeSmarts. New projects this year will include features on over-the-counter medicine safety, Social Security and retirement planning, and a relaunch of the official LifeSmarts Adventure app, new quizzing activities, and more!

LifeSmarts has plenty to offer educators—teaching tools, resources, and curriculum. And for students, the skills they need to be successful adults, as well as extracurricular activities, community service opportunities, character development, and many
experiences whose memories will last a life-time.

Think LifeSmarts might be right for you or someone you know? Visit LifeSmarts.org to learn more.

Advice to get rid of that debt monkey on your back

Ben Wiseman, director of the Office of Consumer Protection at the Office….

Sorting through bogus health claims

Across the United States, people are rising to the historic health needs and challenges posed by coronavirus, with healthcare workers on the frontlines risking their lives, and businesses pivoting to manufacture much-needed medical and protective supplies.

But deep concerns about the health implications—what happens to people who contract the disease from a health and financial perspective—are top of mind for many of us. And a cynical minority has seized on the crisis to employ unscrupulous, and frankly dangerous, marketing tactics to promote bogus products claiming to protect users against the coronavirus or provide relief for those infected—as well as peddling downright phony coronavirus testing products.

“These false claims touting unproven medical benefits are nothing more than craven attempts to take advantage of fearful consumers,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg.

“Moreover, they spread misinformation among consumers anxiously seeking ways to stay safe and healthy amidst the coronavirus crisis.”

In an op-ed in The Hill published in May, Greenberg noted that a number of CBD manufacturers and stores are falsely promoting unproven medical benefits of CBD products.

A CBD store in Portland, OR, for example, was recently ordered by the office of the state’s attorney general to take down signs claiming that its products could boost immunity against COVID-19.

“False claims such as this are particularly dangerous as consumers anxiously attempt to stay safe and healthy amidst the coronavirus crisis,” said Greenberg. “The need for science-backed treatments is significant and we must ensure products are tested and regulated for safety.”

Contrary to claims being made by CBD marketers that products containing cannabidiol can help those suffering from coronavirus, recent studies have actually found potential harmful side effects of cannabis products on infected coronavirus patients. Aurelius Data cautions the public against the potential harmful side effects that can come from consuming cannabis products with Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) if a patient is infected with COVID-19. And studies have shown that many unregulated CBD products have been found to contain THC, though the labels may not disclose this.

“In these uncertain times, we urge consumers to continue to take precautions,” said Greenberg. “We urge everyone to follow CDC guidelines for COVID-19, practice safe social distancing, and at the same time avoid THC products and all untested, unregulated CBD products to help keep your family, friends, and communities safe.”

Alcohol consumption during COVID-19: What the consumer needs to know

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

While most people are stuck at home in America during the COVID-19 pandemic, many have increased their alcohol purchase and consumption. During the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt reportedly stated at the end of prohibition, “what America needs right now is a drink.” American’s are now facing another crisis, a pandemic and are adhering to this call.

According to a survey done by the research firm Nielsen, off-premise sales of alcohol spiked nationwide following stay-at-home orders. A new study from Alcohol.org stated that 1 in 3 Americans are drinking alcohol while working from home during COVID-19 lockdown. About 32 percent of Americans are more likely to be drinking while working from home, with 36 percent of men and 26 percent of women drinking while working.

In 2018, National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) disclosed data showing that 86.3 percent of Americans ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 70 percent reported they drank in the past year; 55.3 percent reported that they drank in the past month. NSDUH also indicated in 2018 that 14.4 million adults ages 18 and older had Alcohol Use Disorder in the United States. This includes 9.2 million men and 5.3 million women. The survey went onto disclose an estimated 401,000 youth ages from 12 to 17 had Alcohol Use Disorder.

According to Healthline, Americans expressed that their daily routine has changed and many have faced unemployed. This increased uncertainty, anxiety, and fear brought on by the pandemic has resulted in binge drinking.

What is defined as “binge drinking”? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines it as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dl or above. This typically happens when men consume 5 or more drinks or women consume 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours.

Binge drinking has some serious risks and is associated with many health problems, including:

  • sudden infant death syndrome;
  • obesity;
  • chronic diseases such as high blood pressures, stroke, heart disease, and liver disease;
  • cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon;
  • memory and learning problems;
  • alcohol use disorders;
  • and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

The CDC stated in 2010 that alcohol misuse cost Americans an estimated $249.0 billion. These costs resulted from losses in workplace productivity, health care expenditures, criminal justice costs, and other expenses. Binge drinking was responsible for 77 percent of these costs or $191 billion.

Many consumers are unaware that the U.S. Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has not mandated “Alcohol Facts” on alcoholic beverages. Consumers have access to labeling information that contains nutritional facts on every single thing they consume except alcoholic beverages. As a result, consumers have little means of knowing the most basic information about alcoholic beverages. At the National Consumers League (NCL), we think the need for alcohol labeling is long overdue. Over the last two decades, NCL has petitioned the federal government for standardized “Alcohol Facts” and, this summer, will be calling for action on Alcoholic Beverage Labeling. Join your voice with ours by signing the forthcoming petition addressed to TTB and demand the drafting and implementation of rules that mandate a standardized “Alcohol Facts” label on all alcoholic beverages. It’s time to end the confusion so consumers can make informed and responsible purchasing and consumption decisions.

Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs staff honored with top volunteer award from national consumer literacy program, LifeSmarts

May 19, 2020

Theresa Kong Kee, Gloryana Akapo named 2020 LifeSmarts State Coordinators of the Year 

Contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—LifeSmarts, a national teen consumer literacy and scholarship program, has named two Hawaii government officials its 2020 Coordinators of the Year: Theresa Kong Kee, Investor Education Specialist, and Gloryana Akapo, Securities Multi-Media Education Specialist with the Office of the Securities Commissioner, both with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. Kong Kee has served as Hawaii State LifeSmarts Coordinator for 7 years; Akapo joined her as co-coordinator two years ago.

LifeSmarts, a consumer education competition that challenges teens in grades 9-12 about personal finance, health and safety, the environment, technology, and consumer rights and responsibilities, is a program of the National Consumers League (NCL). LifeSmarts is coordinated by NCL at the national level and by volunteers who serve as State Coordinators across the country.

“Working together, Theresa and Gloryana run a very successful and competitive LifeSmarts program for students and educators in Hawaii,” said LifeSmarts Program Director Lisa Hertzberg. “They have developed a state LifeSmarts website that includes many resources for educators. They actively promote LifeSmarts through social media to provide resources to their coaches, and they have continued to be especially active during the pandemic.”

LifeSmarts State Coordinators implement the national consumer education program at the local level, bringing to bear their knowledge of best practices for students and educators in their state. State Coordinators promote the program, advise educators, and run online and live state competitions to advance consumer education for the students in their states.

Staff within the Office of the Securities Commissioner in the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs has served in the State Coordinator role since 2013.

“Theresa and Gloryana work so hard for their state, and it shows; Hawaii’s LifeSmarts program is truly exceptional, when it comes to administration, partnerships, and—most importantly—student participation and success,” said Hertzberg. “The Hawaii LifeSmarts program is robust, and student teams have done very well at the national level. Hawaii is also home to the second largest Junior Varsity (middle school) program in the nation. We are thrilled to honor them this year and congratulate them for a job very well done.”

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About LifeSmarts and the National Consumers League

LifeSmarts is a program of the National Consumers League. State coordinators run the programs on a volunteer basis. For more information, visit: www.lifesmarts.org, email lifesmarts@nclnet.org or call the National Consumers League’s communications department at (202) 835-3323.

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

More tips for staying healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak and beyond

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

COVID has changed the way we live and has brought with it some drastic changes, like social distancing.

While we don’t want to live like this any longer than we have to, there are new habits that will not only help us get through this challenging time, but can stay with us as helpful tools in our everyday lives.

  1. Maintain hand hygiene, cough and sneeze etiquette. Wash your hands with antibacterial soap and cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough.
  2. Wear face coverings. Even in pre-COVID times, it has been common practice in other countries to wear face masks to protect oneself from those sick with a cold or flu and to protect others when you are sick.
  3. Establish routines. It’s important for your mental, emotional, and physical health to maintain healthy eating habits and to get adequate sleep.
  4. Be wise on portion size. Most of us are less active during this time and it’s easy to overeat. Drink plenty of water and buy small cans of soda rather than super-sized containers.
  5. Plan your meals. This will help you reduce the number of trips you take to the grocery store, stick to your budget, and avoid food waste. Knowing what portions are appropriate for you and your family is also helpful. Try not to overdo it with fast food consumption, which tends to be higher in fat, salt, and sugar.
  6. Stay physically, mentally active. Walk outside and get some sunshine! If that’s not an option, there are plenty of workouts on YouTube! Pilates, yoga, Zumba, and many other exercise programs are available for free if you can’t get out of the house.
  7. Keep everyone connected. We have so many options nowadays like phone calls, text, Facetime, Zoom, and more. Houseparty, for example, is a newly popularized app that allows you to play games with a group of family and friends.
  8. Get some sun! Vitamin D is important for the immune response and getting sun will increase your vitamin D reserves. Open shades and windows while sitting in sunny areas of your home. And, if possible, go outside. Just remember to adhere to social distancing guidelines (maintaining 6+ feet between yourself and others).
  9. Manage your environment. This is especially important for those of us working from home. If you have the ability, designate a work area so that you can keep your work life and personal life separate.
  10. Stay informed. Pay attention to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and check your local government website. Getting your news from a variety of sources will ensure that you’re in the know about new developments in the fight against COVID-19 internationally and locally.

COVID-19, what could it cost you?

Nissa Shaffi

By Nissa Shaffi, NCL Associate Director of Health Policy

As the nation continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, another top-of-mind concern is the cost associated with both testing and treatment for the illness. Between the boldness of certain state officials relaxing restrictions and the rapid ascension of cases, exposure to COVID-19 will inevitably rise.

The reassuring news is that the majority of Americans diagnosed will be able to recover from home. But what if you’re among the 15 percent that will need hospitalization? This subset of the population will require the most acute care, including admission into an intensive care unit and use of a ventilator. Between testing and treatment, there are a lot of factors for the consumer and patient to consider—outright costs of care, as well as cost-sharing (co-pays, deductibles, out-of-network costs, and more)—we did some of the research below.

Testing

  • Affordable Care Act (ACA)-compliant Plans: Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, all comprehensive health plans (individual, employer-sponsored, or ACA marketplace plans), must cover testing for COVID-19 at 100 percent.
  • Medicare & Medicaid: Testing is covered at 100 percent for Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Uninsured: Testing will be covered at 100 percent by Medicaid, as mandated by the CARES Act.
  • Non-ACA-Compliant Plans: Testing coverage may vary for consumers with non-ACA-compliant plans (i.e., short-term plans), as these plans are not subject to the protections found in the ACA.

Apart from non-ACA plans, there’s testing done in an emergency room, urgent care, or physician’s office, and all that should be covered. In addition, the health plan cannot impose prior authorization or cost-sharing restrictions (i.e., copays, deductibles, coinsurance) on the patient. Of course, access to testing is currently limited to those with symptoms or those working in health care facilities or other consumer-facing businesses. There are still strict criteria established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).[1]

Treatment

Newly passed emergency bills do not address coverage of treatment. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 treatment for someone insured on an employer-based health plan could run upwards of $10,000, provided that there are no complications. For patients that require more acute care, costs could reach $20,000.

ACA-Compliant Plans: Health plans are not required to fully cover the cost of positive tests. A majority of the treatments for COVID-19 under ACA-compliant plans will qualify as essential health benefits, and as such will be covered. However, every state defines its own criteria for essential health benefits, and it is possible that some treatments will not be covered, based on where you live. Furthermore, coverage may vary depending on the type of group health plan you have (large vs. small).

Cost-sharing will also likely be imposed. Marketplace plans are required to cap maximum out-of-pocket costs for services covered in-network. In 2020, the maximum out-of-pocket cap is $8,150, meaning that if your care is deemed medically necessary, your out-of-pocket costs should not exceed that amount. Some plans have offered to cover patient-cost sharing for out-of-network care for COVID-19 in the absence of in-network availability. As an emergency course of action, several health plans have waived out-of-pocket costs like copays and coinsurance associated with treatment for COVID-19. To see where your health plan stands, click here.

Medicare and Medicaid: Medicare Part A (hospital stays) and Part B (doctor’s visits) will continue to charge copays and deductibles. The deductible for a 60-day hospital stay under Part A is $1,408. For Part B, the annual deductible is approximately $200. Cost-sharing related to Medicare Advantage and Medicaid plans will depend on your individual plan.

Uninsured: The Trump Administration has announced that part of the $100 billion of the $2 trillion appropriated for COVID-19-related relief in the CARES Act will be dedicated to reimbursing providers who treat uninsured patients. Provisions within the law include treatment for primary diagnosis of COVID-19 in a variety of settings, both emergency and non-emergency transportation, and post-acute care. Services that will be excluded from coverage include hospice and outpatient prescription drugs.

While further guidance is pending, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has clarified the following: “as a condition of receiving funds under this program, providers will be forbidden from balance billing the uninsured for the cost of their care.” This caveat reinforces that providers would get reimbursed at Medicare rates for delivery of uncompensated care and cannot balance bill the difference between Medicare reimbursement and the hospital’s charges.

In addition to the above, the law prohibits hospitals from charging patients beyond what they would pay in-network or what Medicare pays. The mandate against surprise billing serves to protect patients covered by government programs, employer-based plans, and self-purchased insurance.

Also, the growing loss of employer-based health coverage has prompted several states to extend their special enrollment periods to accommodate newly unemployed/uninsured patients during the pandemic. To see if you qualify for a special enrollment period, click here.

Non-ACA-Compliant Plans: Off-marketplace plans are not regulated by the ACA, and this could affect coverage for COVID-19-related treatment, where there is a possibility that treatment may not be covered outright. Examples of non-ACA plans include short-term health, fixed indemnity, and critical illness plans. These plans do not qualify for minimum essential coverage and are insufficient on their own, in our view.

Understanding insurance benefits can be daunting under ideal circumstances, let alone during a global health crisis. Consumers need enhanced accessibility and coverage now more than ever and NCL commends health plans for acting promptly to waive various cost-sharing measures. NCL urges Congress to continue to fortify and provide clear guidance for consumer protections, to ensure that they are not left stranded without vital care. Consumers, please know that there are COVID-19-related resources available to you—for more information, click here.

[1] To find a drive-thru testing site near you, click here.