It has been previously discussed that President Biden announced an end to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) and National Emergency (NE) periods on May 11, 2023, and the practical ramifications for employer group health plan sponsors as they administer COBRA, special enrollment, and other related deadlines tied to the end of the NE. As discussed, this action generally meant that all applicable deadlines were tolled until the end of the NE plus 60 days, or July 10, 2023, with all regular (non-extended) deadlines taking effect for applicable events occurring after that.
A Change in the National Emergency End Date
A new wrinkle recently added a potential complication to calculating these deadlines. President Biden signed H.R. Res. 7 into law on April 10, 2023, after Congress jointly introduced H.R. Res. 7 as a one-line action to end the NE, effective immediately. The consequence is that the applicable end of the transition relief is now June 9, 2023 (60 days following April 10, 2023) instead of July 10, 2023, as previously anticipated. The Department of Labor (DOL), however, has informally announced that despite the statutory end of the NE being 30 days earlier than expected, to avoid potential confusion and changes to administrative processes already in progress, the deadline of July 10, 2023, will remain the relevant date for COBRA, special enrollment, and other related deadlines under previous guidance. Prophetically, updated FAQs, released March 29, 2023, by the DOL, Department of Treasury, and Department of Health and Human Services (the Agencies), provide, “the relief generally continues until 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency or another date announced by DOL, the Treasury Department, and the IRS (the “Outbreak Period”). [emphasis added]” Further clarification and formal guidance are still expected.
Updated DOL FAQ Guidance
Most employers rely on third-party vendors and consultants to help administer COBRA, special enrollments, claims, appeals, etc. All should be aware of the impact the end of the NE and PHE has on all applicable deadlines. The FAQs provide at Q/A-5 specific examples to help employers, consultants, and administrators apply the end of NE and PHE deadlines and different scenarios related to COBRA elections and payments before and after the end of the Outbreak Period, special enrollment events, Medicaid election changes, etc. The FAQs also make clear that employers are encouraged to consider extending these deadlines for the current plan year. Employers should discuss the impact of this guidance with their vendors and consultants to ensure all parties comply with the upcoming transitional periods.
The FAQs also confirm (at Q/A 1-4) the impact of the end of the PHE on COVID-19-related testing and diagnostic procedures, noting that as of the end of the PHE on May 11, 2023, group health plans are no longer required to provide certain COVID-19 related coverage at 100 percent under the plan, but can revert to previous cost-sharing and deductible limitations that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic. Note that President Biden’s recent action approving the end of the NE on April 10, 2023, has no impact on the previously communicated end to the PHE on May 11, 2023. Employers should review changes in coverage of COVID-19 testing and other related treatment or procedures with their insurance carriers, consultants, and advisors, including any notices that may be required in connection with those changes. The DOL confirmed that while encouraged to do so, employers do not have to provide any separate notification of any changes in current coverage limits before the PHE end date unless the employer had previously disclosed a different level of coverage in its current Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) provided during the most recent open enrollment period.
COVID-19 Testing and Treatment Under High Deductible Health Plan/Health Savings Accounts
Q/A-8 of the FAQs provides interim clarification regarding the impact of the end of the PHE on high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) that are tied to health savings accounts (HSAs) and the ability to provide medical coverage for COVID-19 testing or treatment without requiring an employee to satisfy applicable HDHP deductibles for HSA contribution purposes. Even though IRS Notice 2020-15 provided relief from general deductible limitations under Code Section 223(c)(1) through the end of the PHE, the Agencies have determined this relief will remain in effect after the end of the PHE and until the IRS issues further guidance.