Getting Ready for the Conclusion of COVID-19 Emergency Declarations
President Biden made an announcement on January 30 that he plans to terminate the COVID-19 National Emergency (“NE”) and Public Health Emergency (“PHE”) on May 11, 2023.
These emergency declarations have provided different types of assistance to employees covered by employee welfare benefit plans (health, dental, life, etc.), and they have been extended multiple times since their establishment almost three years ago, which included;
• HIPAA/CHIPRA Special Enrollment
• COBRA notifications
• COBRA elections
• COBRA premium payments
• Benefit claims and appeals
• External review
As we approach the potential end of COVID-19 emergency declarations, it is essential to consider how this may impact employee benefit plans governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). Currently, under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, employer-sponsored health plans are obligated to provide coverage for COVID-19 testing, vaccines, and associated services without any cost-sharing requirements. The termination of the PHE could potentially allow group health plans and insurers to transfer some of these expenses to participants.
In this newsletter, we will discuss some of the steps employers and plan sponsors can take to prepare for the end of COVID-19 emergency declarations and their potential impact on ERISA.
1. Review plan documents and policies
Employers and plan sponsors should review their plan documents and policies to ensure they comply with ERISA requirements and are up to date with any changes related to COVID-19. This may include amendments to plan coverage and similar provisions.
2. Communicate with employees
Employers should timely communicate with employees about any changes to their welfare benefit plans as a result of the end of COVID-19 emergency declarations. It is important to provide clear and concise information to employees to ensure they understand any changes and how they may impact their benefits.
3. Consider potential plan amendments
Plan sponsors may need to amend their plans to address any changes related to the end of COVID-19 emergency declarations. This may include changes to coverage and provisions relating to the outbreak period.
4. Seek guidance
Employers and plan sponsors should seek guidance to ensure their employee welfare benefit plans comply with ERISA requirements and any changes related to COVID-19. Professional advice can help employers and plan sponsors understand the potential legal implications of any changes to their plans.
In conclusion, the end of COVID-19 emergency declarations may have implications for ERISA-governed employee welfare benefit plans. Employers and plan sponsors should review their plans and policies, communicate with employees, consider potential plan amendments, and seek guidance to ensure compliance with ERISA requirements and any changes related to COVID-19.