Human Resources
Finance & Administration

CARES/FFCRA Act COVID-19 Related Impacts on Benefits

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The following message was sent to all benefits eligible faculty and staff on Friday, April 17, 2020


The President of the United States signed the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) into law on March 18, 2020, and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27, 2020. The laws provide a variety of financial relief to Americans including direct payments to workers (“stimulus checks”), increased unemployment insurance and loans for small businesses.


There are a number of provisions in the CARES Act as well as FFCRA that affect Lehigh’s medical insurance plans. The CARES Act also contains provisions that impact the Lehigh University Retirement Plan.


Medical Insurance

Lehigh has opted into certain provisions of the CARES Act and FFCRA that affect some or all medical plan participants. The goal of these provisions is to encourage people to seek diagnosis and testing of COVID-19/Coronavirus without being worried about the potential cost. 


As with other illnesses, your healthcare provider will submit for payment to Capital BlueCross. You do not need to be concerned with communicating to your provider about CARES or FFCRA regarding billing for diagnosis or testing of COVID-19/Coronavirus. 


Telemedicine for Lehigh Medical Plan Participants

Capital BlueCross has extended their zero copay for care through the Virtual Care app for all participants through May 15, 2020. Medical services through the Capital BlueCross Virtual Care app for all of Lehigh’s medical plans  will have a zero copay through May 15, 2020.


The CARES Act also provides for reimbursement for services for "telemedicine and other remote care services" related to diagnosis and testing for COVID-19/Coronavirus below the deductible, including in an HSA-qualified health plan (HDHP). This provision is effective March 27, 2020 through December 31, 2021.  


Impacts for Flexible Spending Account (FSA) and Health Savings Account (HSA) Holders

Claims Reimbursement - If you have a healthcare FSA or an HSA, you can now submit claims for over the counter drugs without a doctor’s prescription. Menstrual care products have also been added to the list of eligible expenses for reimbursement. The date of purchase for either of these categories must be after December 31, 2019. 


Please note that the Wageworks and Health Equity card systems are being updated to include these items. However, until that process is complete, reimbursement for these new items must be done through claims/receipt reimbursement (either on the web or in the app). It’s important to  keep your receipts to ensure reimbursement. Wageworks and Health Equity will be providing additional information as it becomes available.


HSA Contributions Deadline Extended - As you may know, the IRS has extended  the deadline for filing federal tax returns to July 15, 2020. This also extends the deadline for Health Savings Account (HSA) participants to make 2019 contributions to their HSA. Members can contribute to their 2019 HSA any time before July 15, 2020. 


Please note that Lehigh cannot make 2019 HSA contributions on behalf of the participant via payroll deduction; such contributions must be made through the Health Equity secure member portal. The maximum annual HSA contributions for 2019 have not changed ($3,500 for individuals and $7,000 for families).  



Retirement Plan Impacts

Responding to the economic crisis resulting from the COVID-19 global pandemic, the CARES Act offers impacted retirement plan account holders more flexibility in accessing funds. 

Lehigh University has chosen to adopt the following CARES Act provisions for our retirement plan:

  • Penalties and withholding are waived for qualified distributions from retirement plan accounts

  • Retirement plan loan limits have been increased and payment periods have been extended

  • Optional suspension of required minimum distributions (RMDs) for 2020.

In addition to these CARES Act relief measures, the deadline for 2019 Individual Retirement Account (IRA) contributions has been extended from April 15 to July 15, 2020. 


Eligibility Criteria

It’s important to note that these provisions are only available for use if you have been personally impacted by COVID-19. You will be expected to self-certify that you have been impacted before taking any action regarding a withdrawal or loan from your retirement account.


You are considered eligible to take distributions/loans from your retirement plan if any of the below conditions are met:  

  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 by a test approved from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • You have a spouse or dependent who has been diagnosed with COVID-19

  • You suffer financial consequences as a result of quarantine, employment furlough, layoffs, reduced work hours or cannot work due to lack of child care as a result of coronavirus

  • You experience a financial loss to an individually owned or operated business that is caused by a closing or reduction of hours due to coronavirus

  • Other factors as determined by the Secretary of the Treasury or his delegate.


Get Advice Before You Act
More detailed information about these provisions is available on TIAA’s special COVID-19 website . The decision to withdraw or borrow funds from your retirement account is one that should involve a great deal of consideration. We strongly recommend that you consult with your financial advisor or with TIAA before taking any actions that could impact your future retirement savings.


Have Questions?

If you have any questions regarding your medical plans as they relate to COVID19, you can email HR at

For questions related to your Lehigh University Retirement Plan account, contact TIAA at 1-800-842-2252.


Mental Health Support Available

We recognize this is a difficult time for faculty and staff who are needing to make many adjustments to not only their work but also their personal lives. Your Lehigh benefits include behavioral health coverage. To access these services under Lehigh's medical plan call the number listed on the back of your Capital Blue Cross Card. In addition, Lehigh's Employee Assistance Program (Integrated Behavioral Health) can be helpful regardless of whether you participate in the Lehigh medical plan.