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End of COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

Expiration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency and Your Business

End of COVID-19 Public Health EmergencyMay 11, 2023, marks the end of the public health emergency for COVID-19. Many businesses for months have been acting as if the pandemic was long since gone. But the official end to the public health emergency on May 11th, an emergency that lasted more than 3 years, can have some impact on your business and require that you take certain actions. FAQs prepared jointly by the Departments of Labor (DOL), Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Treasury give guidance to employers on what to do now with respect to certain activities.

Group health plans

Group health plans are no longer required to cover some services related to COVID-19, such as diagnostic testing, including over-the-counter tests, at no cost to the participant. However, these plans can still choose to do so. Also, the requirement to cover COVID-19 vaccines out-of-network generally lapses with the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

During the pandemic, plans offered more flexibility to make certain elections. The extensions of certain time frames for employee benefit plans end on July 10, 2023 (60 days after the end of the national emergency). These extensions relate to requesting special enrollment to join employer group health plans, electing COBRA continuation coverage and paying COBRA premiums, and submitting health plan claims and appeals. The FAQs give this example:

  • Individual A works for Employer X and participates in Employer X’s group health plan. Individual A experiences a qualifying event for COBRA purposes and loses coverage on April 1, 2023. Individual A is eligible to elect COBRA coverage under Employer X’s plan and is provided a COBRA election notice on May 1, 2023. The last day of Individual A’s COBRA election period is 60 days after July 10, 2023 (the end of the Outbreak Period), which is September 8, 2023.

What to do:  Determine which rules put in place during the pandemic will continue due to your choice. For example, while the extended periods applicable to COBRA will end in July, there is nothing preventing employers from providing longer timeframes for employees, participants, or beneficiaries to complete COBRA actions (e.g., electing it, paying premiums, etc.). Be sure to communicate to employees any changes in plan rules.

Retirement plans

The end of the public health emergency does not have any direct impact on qualified retirement plans. However, be sure to note that employees who took COVID-19 distributions from a company retirement plan in 2020 and want to recontribute funds must do so within 3 years.

What to do: Check the dates for distributions and recontributions to ensure they meet favorable tax rules. If recontributions are attempted after the end of the 3-year period, they are excess contributions—the plan should not accept them.

Work arrangements

When there were government-mandated shutdowns, employers had no choice but to have employees work from their homes. These shutdowns are a thing of the past. The end of the national health emergency has no impact on work arrangements. Yet many employers continue to allow employees to use remote work arrangements.

What to do: Determine what type of work arrangements work best for your business. Full-time remote work? Partial remote work? Back to the office in pre-pandemic mode?

Final thought

Fred Rogers said: “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”

Let’s hope this post-COVID-19 period proves to be a good one. Keep the lessons learned during the pandemic in mind: adapt, keep hope, and survive.