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Companies are making some changes for employees health insurance amid the pandemic

More coverage for virtual doctors’ visits. Expanded mental health benefits. Access to on-site health clinics.



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As employees sign up for job-based coverage for 2021, they’ll find the coronavirus pandemic has changed some of the benefits that their companies are providing, experts said.

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And they’ll also see their premiums and out-of-pocket costs increase about 5%, which is more than wages and inflation have been rising, according to the Business Group on Health, which surveys large employers.

This bump comes on top of a 4% increase in premiums this year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual employer health benefits survey. In 2020, the average annual premiums hit nearly $7,500 for single coverage and $21,500 for family coverage. Deductibles stayed roughly the same at about $1,650 for a single person.

One of the biggest changes for 2021 will be a growth in the number and types of virtual care options, said Steve Wojcik, the group’s vice president of public policy. Employers had long offered telehealth, but few of their staffers actually used it.

The pandemic changed all that. Utilization soared as Americans sought medical care from the safety of their homes.

Some 53% of large employers will offer more virtual care options next year, the group found. And they are extending the services to weight management, prenatal care and management of chronic diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Coronavirus, as well as the accompanying economic upheaval, has also greatly affected many Americans’ mental health. Companies plan to bolster their support and make employees more aware of the offerings available to them, said Mark Hope, senior director at Willis Towers Watson.

Some 45% of large employers are planning to work with their insurers to expand mental health provider networks, according to the Business Group on Health report.

Some 91% of large employers said they would offer virtual mental health services in 2021, up from 73% in 2019. And 65% said they would provide virtual emotional well-being services next year, up from 45% in 2019.

And nearly nine in 10 employers will offer access to online mental health resources, including apps, videos and webinars.

Meanwhile, 61% of employers plan to have an on-site clinics, which can provide coronavirus testing, in addition to basic health services. This ticked up from 58% this year.

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Om of Medicine employees claim they were fired for speaking against racism

ANN ARBOR, MI — Former employees of a downtown Ann Arbor marijuana dispensary say managers fired them for speaking up against racial injustice and attempting to unionize.

Ana Gomulka, former social equity program coordinator, and Lisa Conine, former community outreach coordinator, attempted to have conversations with Om of Medicine managers on improvements amid the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck during an arrest.

The two asked managers to make a public statement about the movement, but Gomulka said they instead sent employees an email.

The two were later fired and immediately filed for wrongful termination through the National Labor Relations Board, Gomulka and Conine confirmed.

However, Om of Medicine co-founder Mark Passerini denies violating anyone’s rights.

“Om of Medicine categorically denies engaging in any activity that violates employees’ rights under the NLRA,” Passerini said in a statement. “Om of Medicine is also committed to equal employment opportunity, treating everyone fairly and maintaining an environment free of discrimination, harassment and intimidation,”

Employees picketed outside of the dispensary on Wednesday, Sept. 23, to stand “for real justice in this industry” and support the terminated employees, Gomulka said.

Cannabis retailer aims to break down stigma by ‘normalizing’ marijuana

“They tried intimidating us for speaking up against racism,” said Gomulka, who identifies as a multicultural Black person. “We know the cannabis industry. Over 85% of owners of cannabis, especially in our state, are white. It was very shocking they promoted me in this position and wouldn’t let me do my work.”

The reaction also shocked Conine, she said, as Om of Medicine is a known “trailblazer and taking a stance on everything” in the community.

“That was really disheartening with all of us, Conine said. “That hasn’t been our experience at Om of Medicine,”

Previous social media posts indicate the company stands against police brutality toward communities of color and note social inequities in the cannabis industry, citing people of color often are made as victims of mass incarceration and in constant fear of law enforcement.

Passerini said he and the “Omies” pride themselves in cannabis education, reform and helping communities “right the wrongs caused from cannabis prohibition by seeking out opportunities to lift up those harmed by the war on cannabis.”

“Om of Medicine’s three core principles have been central to our mission,” Passerini said in a statement. “First, serve our patients and customers with quality cannabis products in a safe and responsible manner. Second, provide our Omies, a fair, safe, and respectful workplace. Third, focus our advocacy efforts on one goal: to replace prohibition with opportunity so that our patients and consumers can safely learn about and procure cannabis for healing and responsible use,

“To achieve this, we have always had an open-door policy to all community members, including elected officials, community leaders, and law enforcement. Working together, we have kept our patients safe to access their medicine with no issues for over