Houston Lifts Employee Benefits Restrictions in Wake of Harvey

Employee Benefits News examines legal developments that impact the employee benefits and executive compensation employers provide, including federal and state legislation, rules from federal...

By Nushin Huq

The city of Houston made a number of concessions on medical benefits for its employees, reducing barriers to health-care access during the recovery from Hurricane Harvey, city officials told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 31.

The storm dumped feet of water on the city, flooding roads and homes. Working with its health-care carriers, the city’s concessions include suspending the automatic termination rules for medical benefits and lifting prescription refill restrictions, Teri Germany-Haddad, the city’s deputy director of human resources, told Bloomberg BNA in a statement.

Prior authorization requirements have been waived for acute medical care and behavioral health services, Haddad said. Additionally, employees who utilize mail order pharmacies for generic medicine but have been displaced by flooding and presently have no place for medications to be shipped will be able to refill their prescriptions with no copayment at retailers.

The city opened a free 24/7 telephone help line, which will remain open through Oct. 15, to support all affected employees. Houston is continuing to explore other opportunities to reduce any barriers related to health care for its workers, she said.

“City of Houston employees who have the ability to safely return to work will do so to ensure continuity of services in our great city,” Haddad said.

Not Mirroring County

The city’s hurricane policy for its employees will not mirror Harris County. Harris County is the largest county in Texas and encompasses most of Houston, as well as surrounding areas. During the hurricane and accompanying storms, nonessential employees were told to work from home or to volunteer for hurricane relief efforts instead of using vacation or comp time.

Since Aug. 26, Harvey and related storms have dumped more than 50 inches of rain in parts of Texas, causing catastrophic flooding.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nushin Huq in Houston at nHuq@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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