Preparing Group Health Plans for the End of COVID-19 Emergency Periods
February 2, 2023
By: Jill E. Hall
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, several temporary rules were enacted that govern employer-sponsored health plans. Some mandates, such as the requirement that health plans cover without cost-sharing COVID-19 diagnostic tests, apply for the duration of a designated “Public Health Emergency.” Others require group health plans to disregard, or toll, what is known as the “Outbreak Period” when calculating certain ERISA deadlines, including those applicable to COBRA elections and appeals of claims decisions, as well as special enrollment periods under HIPAA. The Outbreak Period runs from March 1, 2020, to the earlier of (a) one year from the date an individual is first eligible for relief from the applicable deadlines or (b) 60 days after the announced end of the national health emergency due to COVID-19 as set by the President.
The Biden Administration has announced it plans to end the Public Health Emergency on May 11, 2023. The Outbreak Period would then end 60 days later. The end of the emergency periods will impact employer sponsors of group health plans and require that sponsors ensure plan documents and participant communications accurately describe coverage and limitations. With respect to deadlines tolled by the Outbreak Period, plan sponsors should begin to consider how they will handle imminent deadlines which will vary by plan participant.