The COVID-19 National Emergency is Finally Coming to an End
After a long and challenging period, the Biden Administration has announced that the COVID-19 national emergency declarations will finally come to an end on May 11, 2023. During the emergency, employee benefit plans were required to provide certain coverages and toll various deadlines. Now, employers need to take action to prepare for the end of the emergency and its impact on their employee benefit plans.
Tolled Employee Benefit Plan Deadlines
During the COVID-19 national emergency, deadlines for employee benefit plans were tolled. This included the time period for:
Requesting HIPAA special enrollment;
Electing COBRA continuation coverage;
Making COBRA premium payments;
Notifying plans of a COBRA qualifying event or disability determination;
Filing a benefit claim under the plan’s claim procedures;
Filing an appeal of an adverse benefit determination;
Filing a request for external review; and
Perfecting a request for external review.
The tolling period will vary for each individual, ending either 60 days after the end of the COVID-19 national emergency or one year from the date they were first eligible for relief.
Examples of Tolling End Dates
Here are a few examples to help illustrate how the tolling will be applied once the national emergency ends:
A COBRA qualified beneficiary was required to make an election by March 1, 2022. Their deadline was delayed until March 1, 2023 or 60 days after the end of the national emergency (July 10, 2023). Therefore, the COBRA qualified beneficiary must make an election by March 1, 2023.
A participant received notification of a denied health FSA claim on August 1, 2022. Their date to file an appeal was delayed until August 1, 2023 or 60 days after the end of the national emergency (July 10, 2023). Therefore, the participant has until July 10, 2023 to file an appeal.
Effect on COVID-19 Testing and Vaccine Coverage Requirements
During the COVID-19 national emergency, group health plans were required to cover COVID-19 testing services and vaccines without cost sharing or pre-authorization, including services provided by out-of-network providers. However, once the national emergency ends on May 11, group health plans will no longer be required to provide first-dollar coverage for COVID-19 testing and related services. They will still be required to cover COVID-19 vaccines without cost-sharing for in-network providers. It remains unclear whether HDHPs will still be allowed to provide first-dollar coverage for diagnosing and treating COVID-19 before the deductible is met.
Telehealth Coverage for HDHPs Remains Unchanged
The telehealth safe harbor, which allows HDHPs to provide remote care without affecting a participant’s eligibility to contribute to a health savings account, was extended by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023. This telehealth provision will not be impacted by the end of the COVID-19 national emergency.
Next Steps for Employers
Employers should take the following steps before the end of the COVID-19 national emergency:
Confirm with their TPA and vendors how the end of the tolling deadlines and coverage requirements will be communicated to participants and beneficiaries;
Ensure that TPAs and vendors are accurately calculating the tolled deadlines based on the end of the national emergency; and
Determine if plan documents and notices need to be modified to address the end of the tolling deadlines and coverage requirements.