On Monday, the Biden Administration announced that after more than three years, the COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency (the "Emergency Periods") will end on May 11, 2023. The COVID-19 pandemic has been remarkably disruptive for employers over the last few years, and the impact of the Emergency Periods on certain group health plan deadlines was no different in this regard.
As a refresher, the declaration of the Emergency Periods required group health plans and participants to "disregard" the Emergency Periods for certain deadlines and timeframes since March 1, 2020. Practically, this extended deadlines and timeframes by the earlier of (1) an additional year or (2) 60 days after the end of the Emergency Periods.
For example, if a participant acquired a new dependent due to marriage or the birth of a child (a HIPAA special enrollment right), he or she would have one year plus 30 days to make an election change following the event triggering the HIPAA special enrollment right.
Applicable deadlines impacted by the Emergency Periods included:
- 30 days for a participant to elect HIPAA special enrollment;
- 60 days for a participant to elect COBRA continuation coverage;
- Timeframe for a plan to provide a COBRA election notice;
- Timeframe for a participant to timely pay COBRA premiums;
- Timeframe for a participant to notify a plan of a COBRA qualifying event or disability determination; and
- Timeframe for a participant to file claims, appeals, and requests under the plan's claims procedures.
Beginning May 11, 2023, there will be a 60-day wind down period for these deadlines and timeframes. In other words, effective on July 10, 2023, all of these deadlines will revert to their normal timeframes.
In addition to the deadline changes, the end of the Emergency Periods means that group health plans and insurers will no longer be required to pay for COVID-19 tests and services without cost-sharing.
Group health plan sponsors should work with their legal counsel, plan administrators, and insurers to make sure these changes are communicated and documented in a timely manner.