COVID-19 National Emergency
Subscribe to COVID-19 National Emergency's Posts

Preparing for the End of the COVID-19 Emergency: Deadline Tolling

The Biden administration previously announced its intent to end the COVID-19 National Emergency (NE) and the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) on May 11, 2023 (read our series introduction for more information). On April 10, 2023, President Biden signed a resolution moving up the end of the NE to April 10, 2023 (the PHE ended on May 11). The US Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services, and the Treasury (the Departments) issued a set of FAQs (available here) on March 29, 2023 (FAQs), which anticipated that the NE would end on May 11, 2023 (see our prior article explaining the FAQs). Plan sponsors should continue to treat May 11 as the end of the NE consistent with the FAQs until the Departments say otherwise.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Departments provided relief from certain benefit plan deadlines, including:

  • The minimum 60-day election period for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) continuation coverage.
  • The date for making COBRA premium payments (45 days for the initial, then minimum 30-day grace periods).
  • The date for individuals to notify the plan of certain qualifying events (divorce, dependent child aging out of plan coverage) or determination of disability as it relates to COBRA coverage.
  • The date for providing a COBRA election notice (typically within 14 days after the plan receives notice of a qualifying event).
  • The 30-day period (or 60-day period, if applicable) to request Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) special enrollment.
  • The date within which individuals may file a benefit claim or an appeal of an adverse benefit determination under a plan’s claims procedures.
  • The date within which claimants may file a request for an external review after receipt of an adverse benefit determination or final internal adverse benefit determination.

This article discusses how the affected tolled deadlines will be phased out and what actions employers may need to take.

BACKGROUND

EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01, later extended by EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01, provided that the deadline by which action needs to be taken for the events described above was tolled until the earlier of: (i) one year from the date the deadline would have first started running for that individual or (ii) sixty (60) days from the end of the NE (the Outbreak Period). This guidance created a tolling deadline specific to each affected individual. Where the individual has not reached the one-year anniversary of the date of the initial deadline, timeframes will begin to run again sixty (60) days after the end of the NE (i.e., July 10, 2023).

The FAQs released by the Departments at the end of March provided much-needed clarification and various helpful examples for employers of how the outbreak period should be taken into consideration when calculating the tolled deadlines. For example, if an employee experiences a qualifying event under COBRA and loses coverage on April 1, 2023, the deadline for the individual to make a COBRA election is tolled until the earlier [...]

Continue Reading




Preparing for the End of the COVID-19 Emergency: High-Deductible Health Plans and Health Savings Accounts

The Biden administration originally announced its intent to end the COVID-19 National Emergency (NE) and the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) on May 11, 2023 (read our prior article for more information). Although the end date of the NE was subsequently advanced to April 10, 2023, by Congressional resolution, the US Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury (the Departments) have given no indication that the change will affect employee benefits plans. Plan sponsors should continue to treat May 11 as the end of the NE until the Departments say otherwise.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, certain permissive practices were allowed by high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) and health savings accounts (HSAs). This article explores whether these benefit offerings can be continued at the end of the PHE and NE.

HDHPs AND HSAs

IRS Notice 2020-15 temporarily permits the coverage of COVID-19 testing with no cost-sharing for HDHPs. It provides that an HDHP will not fail to be an HDHP merely because the plan covers expenses related to COVID-19 testing and treatment prior to satisfying the applicable minimum deductible. This guidance was not directly tied to the NE or the PHE, meaning that it will eventually lapse. The eighth question/answer of the FAQs indicates that individuals covered by an HDHP who have purchased items related to COVID-19 testing or treatment prior to meeting the applicable minimum deductible can continue to contribute to an HSA until further guidance is issued. The Departments also assured plan sponsors that future changes will generally not require HDHPs to make mid-year changes for covered individuals to remain eligible to contribute to an HSA.

Thus, individuals covered by an HDHP may continue to contribute to an HSA following the end of the PHE. COVID-19 vaccinations also continue to be considered preventive care under Section 223 of the Code for purposes of determining whether a health plan is an HDHP.

ACTION ITEMS

Once the PHE and NE have ended, employers can continue their practice of allowing individuals covered by an HDHP plan to contribute to an HSA. Employers need to also consider whether they will continue to cover COVID-19 tests as required by a doctor or OTC without cost-sharing. Employers should strategize what effect this might have on the HDHP. This might also require an amendment to the health plan or its summary plan description. Employers should continue to watch for further guidance from the Departments on this issue.




Mental Health Parity, Quantitative Treatment Limitations, Employee Assistance Plans and the End of the COVID-19 Emergency

The Biden administration has announced its intention to end the COVID-19 National Emergency (NE) and the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) on May 11, 2023 (read our series introduction for more information). Among other things:

  • The NE and the PHE modified the rules governing financial requirements and quantitative treatment limitations under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA). The end of the NE and the PHE will require modifications to group health plans’ and health insurance issuers’ MHPAEA testing as it relates to financial requirements and quantitative treatment limits. The NE and the PHE also affect the design and operation of some employee assistance plans (EAPs).
  • The NE and the PHE allowed plan sponsors to expand coverage under excepted benefit EAPs in certain respects without risking their status as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)-excepted benefits.

MHPAEA 

MHPAEA requires that the financial requirements (such as coinsurance and copays) and quantitative treatment limits (such as visit limits) imposed on mental health or substance use disorder (MH/SUD) benefits cannot be more restrictive than the predominant financial requirements and treatment limitations that apply to substantially all medical/surgical benefits in a particular benefit classification. During the public health emergency period, group health plans and health insurance issuers were permitted to disregard certain items and services related to testing for the detection of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, when performing the “substantially all” and “predominant” tests. Absent this relief, the costs of covering COVID-19 testing items and services without cost-sharing would be the amounts allocated to medical/surgical benefits, thereby putting group health plans and health insurance issuers at risk of running afoul of MHPAEA quantitative treatment limits.

From and after the end of the PHE, group health plans and health insurance issuers must include the cost of covering COVID-19 tests, either diagnostic or over-the-counter, or testing-related services, when calculating MHPAEA quantitative treatment limits.

Action Items: Employers should revisit their MHPAEA compliance testing to ensure that the coverage of COVID-19 tests is properly accounted for in applying the relevant quantitative treatment limits. There is, however, no longer a requirement that a group health plan or health insurance issuer cover these services without charge.

EMPLOYEE ASSISTANCE PLANS

The end of the NE and the PHE could have various impacts on EAPs depending on the specific plan design. Employers may, for example, see a spike in the need for mental health support that could be met through EAP services. While the pandemic may be winding down, the mental health impacts of the past three years may continue for by many employees. Employers may need to continue to offer mental health services and resources through their EAPs, and potentially explore expanding mental health services through an EAP or otherwise, to support employees who are struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues related to the pandemic.

Particular attention is required in the case of excepted benefit EAPs. Excepted benefit EAPs do not provide minimum essential coverage for Affordable Care [...]

Continue Reading




Telehealth and the End of the COVID-19 Emergency

The Biden administration has announced its intent to end the COVID-19 National Emergency (NE) and the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) on May 11, 2023 (read our prior article for more information). In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers and agencies made legislative and regulatory changes to expand access to telehealth services for individuals. This article explores what will happen to these temporary telehealth benefits at the end of the PHE and NE.

Current flexibilities under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) allow applicable large employers (ALEs) to offer stand-alone telehealth and remote care services to employees who were not eligible for other employer coverage during the PHE.

In addition, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act and IRS Notice 2020-29 established a temporary telehealth safe harbor, providing that a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) could cover telehealth and other remote care services on a pre-deductible basis without impacting an individual’s ability to contribute to an HSA. This relief applied to services provided on or after January 1, 2020, with respect to plan years beginning on or before December 31, 2021. Thus, for most calendar-year plans, this relief ended on December 31, 2021. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022 (CAA 2022) renewed the relief under the CARES Act for months beginning after March 31, 2022, and before January 1, 2023—but it created a three-month gap in coverage from January 1, 2022, to March 31, 2022. The CAA 2022 also extended certain flexibilities related to Medicare coverage and payment for telehealth services through the end of 2024. The relief provided under the CAA 2022, however, was provided on a temporary basis and not tied to the PHE or NE.

Effective December 29, 2022, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (CAA 2023) provided a two-year extension allowing first-dollar coverage of telehealth under an HDHP so that individuals can access services without needing to meet a deductible first. The CAA 2023 extends telehealth relief for plan years beginning after December 31, 2022, and before January 1, 2025. Most calendar year plans should therefore have coverage of pre-deductible telehealth services without affecting HSA eligibility for all of 2023 and 2024. When the PHE ends, stand-alone telehealth offerings must cease, but telehealth offerings on a pre-deductible basis can continue.

The stand-alone telehealth relief under the ACA is available until the end of the latest plan year that begins on or before the last day of the PHE. For calendar-year plans, this relief would last until December 31, 2023. When an employer ends its stand-alone telehealth benefit, it may need to provide participants a 60-day notice of a material reduction in benefits.

Employers offering telehealth coverage on a pre-deductible basis with HDHPs have been provided statutory relief through December 31, 2024, through the CAA 2023. However, employers should continue to watch for legislative updates regarding telehealth. Lawmakers have proposed multiple other bills in Congress to extend or make permanent telehealth flexibilities.

For any [...]

Continue Reading




Coverage of COVID-19 Vaccines and the End of the COVID-19 Emergency

Since the Biden administration announced its intention to end the COVID-19 National Emergency (NE) and the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) on May 11, 2023, a topic of great debate has been the requirement and the coverage of COVID-19 vaccines.

As of March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has required health plans and issuers to cover COVID-19 vaccines without cost sharing, even when provided by out-of-network providers, during the PHE. Health plans and issuers have been required to cover COVID-19 vaccines within 15 days after any vaccine becomes recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or receives a rating of “A” or “B” classification recommendation from the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). Separately, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) generally requires coverage of vaccines recommended by the ACIP and the USPSTF as preventative care without cost sharing. If a COVID-19 vaccine is provided by an out-of-network provider, however, health plans may begin to impose cost sharing and certain prior authorization and medical management requirements. As a result, after the PHE, COVID-19 vaccines will still need to be covered without cost sharing except in the case of an out-of-network provider.

Due to the ongoing requirements of the ACA, there will be minimal actions that employers need to take after the PHE ends regarding vaccine coverage. The primary changes are that ACIP-recommended COVID-19 vaccines should be covered immediately instead of after a 15-day hold period and that health plans can decide whether to apply cost sharing, prior authorization and medical management requirements to COVID-19 vaccines obtained from an out-of-network provider. A summary of material modifications and/or plan amendment may be required for any changes the health plan makes. Even for plans that are not subject to the ACA, such as grandfathered health plans, participants cannot be balance billed if a vaccine dose was purchased by the federal government. However, the federal government has not received additional funds from Congress to continue to purchase more vaccines for some time. Employers and plan sponsors should stay up to date on developments, as there may be some questions regarding which vaccines must be covered without cost sharing as more vaccines become available.

For any questions regarding the end of the PHE and/or NE, please contact your regular McDermott lawyer or one of the authors.




Coverage of COVID-19 Testing and the End of the COVID-19 Emergency

A key feature of the COVID-19 National Emergency (NE) and the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) was the government’s ability to provide access and coverage of COVID-19 tests. This resulted in overlapping legislation targeted at providing tests to benefit plan participants for free.

With the end of the NE and PHE set for May 11, 2023, there is confusion about what will happen to COVID-19 testing.

Starting on March 18, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) required all public and private insurance coverage, including self-funded plans, to cover COVID-19 tests and costs associated with diagnostic testing with no cost-sharing for the duration of the PHE. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act enacted shortly after expanded this requirement to cover out-of-network tests during the PHE. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (CAA) then took a new approach and applied the requirement to over-the-counter (OTC) COVID-19 tests and added additional obligations. Under guidance issued by the US Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury, effective January 15, 2022, health plans were required to cover up to eight free OTC at-home tests per covered individual per month. Health plans could limit the reimbursement of these tests to the lesser of the actual or negotiated price or $12 per test. Health plans could also provide tests through participating network providers, such as pharmacies or retailers.

When the PHE ends, health plans will no longer be required to cover COVID-19 tests, either diagnostic or OTC, or testing-related services with no cost-sharing.

Employers should consider whether they want to continue to cover COVID-19 tests as required by a doctor or OTC without cost sharing. There is no requirement to stop doing this after the PHE but doing so may have some implications on group health plans. Importantly, if an employer decides to continue covering testing at no cost, they should consider how this affects any employer-sponsored high-deductible health plan (HDHP). IRS Notice 2020-15 permitted HDHP coverage of COVID-19 testing with no cost-sharing without conflicting with HSA eligibility (see our article here). This relief continues until further guidance is issued. Though COVID-19 testing could be considered preventative care under Section 223 of the Internal Revenue Code, the US Department of Treasury will need to provide further clarification. Employers should also consider whether they want to continue to apply a $12 reimbursement cap on COVID-19 or some other limitation.

After the PHE, employers who choose to continue to cover COVID-19 tests at no cost or apply a reimbursement cap may need to amend their plans or summary plan descriptions for these practices. They will also need to coordinate with any insurer or third-party administrator of the employer’s group health plan to ensure proper administration. Depending on the timing of these amendments, they may also need to provide a summary of material modifications to participants. Employers who decide not to continue coverage of COVID-19 tests or apply a reimbursement cap may need to amend their plans, depending on whether [...]

Continue Reading




How Employers Need to Prepare for the End of the COVID Public Health Emergency and National Emergency

On January 30, 2023, the Biden administration announced its intention to make final extensions of both the COVID-19 National Emergency (NE) and the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) through May 11, 2023, at which point both will end. These emergency declarations have been in place for nearly three years and have enabled the government to modify certain coverage requirements by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance plans, as well as benefits administration rules. The end of the PHE and NE may mean added costs for benefits plans and new questions regarding compliance. This series will explore the implications of the PHE and NE and what their impending end may mean for benefit plan sponsors with articles released periodically before May 11.

There are several important benefit coverage and administration requirements connected to the PHE and/or NE that may remain the same, remain for a temporary period or may need to be discontinued upon the end of these federal emergencies. Over the course of the upcoming weeks, we will cover the key topics that may be triggered by the end of the PHE and/or NE, including:

  • COVID-19 Testing (Part 2 of 10)
  • COVID-19 Vaccines (Part 3 of 10)
  • Telehealth (Part 4 of 10)
  • Mental Health Parity (Part 5 of 10)
  • High Deductible Health Plans, Health Savings Accounts and Employee Assistance Plans (Part 6 of 10)
  • Deadline Tolling Applied to Each of:
    • COBRA (Part 7 of 10)
    • Claims and Appeals + External Review (Part 8 of 10)
    • HIPAA Special Enrollment (Part 9 of 10)
    • Other Plan-Related Notices (Part 10 of 10)

Note that the items covered above are not an exhaustive list of all legislative and regulatory changes that could affect employee benefit plans. This series is meant to keep employers informed about some of the most important upcoming changes and the impending decisions and disclosures that need to be made.

For any questions regarding the end of the PHE and/or NE, please contact your regular McDermott lawyer or one of the authors.




STAY CONNECTED

TOPICS

ARCHIVES

Top ranked chambers 2022
US leading firm 2022