Thank you to our guest speaker, Ben Conley of Seyfarth Shaw LLP.
Though the date was set for May 11, the Biden administration signed documents early, officially ending the National State of Emergency a month earlier than expected on April 10. The resolution was first declared more than three years ago in March 2020.
The Public Emergency continues until the original Thursday in May. And what’s the difference between the National State of Emergency and the Public Health Emergency?
Declared by different governing bodies, the National Emergency effects COBRA deadlines and eligibility while the other pertains to COVID-19 testing, vaccines, and boosters. It may be confusing now, remember, compliance will be a lot cleaner soon.
Renewed by the President on an annual basis, the National State of Emergency extends deadlines potentially complicated by the pandemic. The April 10 declaration specifically impacts the timeframe for electing COBRA coverage after a qualifying event, the timeframe for monthly COBRA payments, or filing a related claim or appeal.
Initial legislation stated that COBRA eligibility closed 60 days after the end of the emergency; this was considered the official outbreak period. To keep the original July 10 cutoff date, new orders say that the outbreak period will end 90 days after the end of the National State of Emergency.
The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has renewed the Public Health Emergency every 90 days since 2020. It is anticipated to end on May 11 as originally announced. A part of early pandemic legislation, the public emergency facilitated several COVID mandates for the safety of everyone.
When it the emergency officially concludes, employers will no longer be required to pay for COVID-19 tests, vaccines, and boosters. Each plan sponsor will get to decide what is best for them. However, many HR teams are sticking with cost sharing, enjoying that employees get tested when they feel sick and stay home if contagious.
Spread the word and communicate your plan changes to your employees. By law, employers must inform people of mid-year plan changes 60 days in advance. Even if not legally required, an end of COVID communication is certainly a good idea for any employer.
These changes do not just impact enrolled participants, but anyone who may be eligible. This may be one time when a single mass communication is a good approach. A companywide email can inform the broader population of the policies and practices and it is a reliable resource to point to as questions arise.
A coordinated effort can help tackle communication needs. For example, many carriers will create their own standard of cost sharing for COVID testing and vaccines. Updating plan documents is truly a case-by-case decision, however, these carrier amendments can serve as employer communications.
Compliance is messy today but stay optimistic. There is likely not a backlog of claims to bog down this process. In a couple short months, the uncertainty will be over, and compliance will resume as normal.