The federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency and National Emergency are officially coming to an end. The federal agencies have issued guidance in an effort to ensure that workers and their families are aware of any changes that may be coming their way due to the termination of the emergencies. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has also expressed their commitment to work with employers and plan sponsors to ensure a smooth transition as the federal government unwinds some of the policies that have been in place during the COVID emergencies. Below is an outline of immediate relevant facts for your consideration.
Public Health Emergency in Effect Through May 11th
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the Public Health Emergency (PHE) end date as May 11, 2023. When the PHE ends, health plans will no longer be required to cover COVID diagnostic tests and related services without cost sharing. Health plans will still be required to cover recommended preventive services, including COVID immunizations, without cost sharing, but this coverage requirement will be limited to in-network providers.
National Emergency Ended April 10th
President Biden signed a resolution ending the COVID-19 National Emergency (NE). Previously it was announced that the end date to both the NE and the PHE was May 11th, but the bipartisan legislation signed by the President terminated the NE as of April 10, 2023. Various employee benefit plan deadlines had been extended by disregarding an “Outbreak Period” (OP) from March 1, 2020, until 60 days after the announced end of the NE, or another date as announced by the agencies. Since the NE now has been determined to end on April 10, 2023, the 60 day period would end on June 9, 2023 (rather than July 10, 2023 as previously predicted). But we understand the DOL has indicated that it will continue to use the May 11 date, meaning the OP would end on July 10, 2023 (60 days after that date). We are hopeful the agencies will issue formal, written guidance to confirm the end of the OP. Once the OP ends, health plans can return to their nonextended deadlines for COBRA, HIPAA special enrollment and claims timelines.
The DOL is encouraging plan sponsors and employers to review guidance issued on March 29, 2023, addressing how certain health plan requirements related to the COVID pandemic will change when the emergency periods end. While this guidance was issued before the resolution ended the NE, the clarifications regarding changes to benefits after the end of the emergency periods and the reinstatement of normal deadlines still apply. While the guidance does not provide any new information beyond what we have already shared in prior Updates, here and here, employers should review the guidance and be familiar with it:
Next Steps for Employers and Plan Sponsors
The Biden administration has stated it will continue working with federal agencies to wind down the COVID emergencies.
Additional resources on the ending of the emergency periods are available on the Department of Labor’s Response to COVID-19 website. Conner Strong & Buckelew will provide updates and additional guidance as new information becomes available. Please contact your Conner Strong & Buckelew account representative toll-free at 1-877-861-3220 with any questions. For a complete list of Legislative Updates issued by Conner Strong & Buckelew, visit our online Resource Center.