Seyfarth Synopsis: HHS has announced that the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) has been extended another 90 days, and will run until January 11, 2023.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, two separate emergency declarations have been in effect: (1) the COVID-19 PHE and (2) the COVID-19 National Emergency. These emergency declarations provide different types of COVID-related relief for participants and group health plans. While the COVID-19 pandemic is winding down, these emergency declarations and their related relief remain in effect.

The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

HHS first declared the COVID-19 PHE in January 2020. The COVID-19 PHE declarations last for 90 days unless an extension is granted. Since January 2020, the COVID-19 PHE has been renewed every 90 days.

HHS recently extended the COVID-19 PHE an additional 90 days. This means that the COVID-19 PHE will run until January 11, 2023, unless another extension is granted.

Accordingly, the COVID-19 PHE will permit the following COVID-related relief to continue into 2023:

  • COVID-19 Testing: in-network and out-of-network COVID-19 testing are at no cost to participants.
  • COVID-19 Vaccines: in-network COVID-19 vaccines are at no cost indefinitely, but after the end of the COVID-19 PHE, plans may impose cost-sharing for non-network administration.
  • Expanded Telehealth Coverage: telehealth coverage is permitted to be offered to employees whether or not the employee is enrolled in the employer’s medical plan.
  • SBC Advanced Notice Requirements: the SBC advanced notice requirements for mid-year changes are relaxed when necessary to implement COVID-19 coverages/benefits.

The Biden Administration has advised that it will provide at least 60 days’ advanced notice prior to allowing the PHE to expire, so unless the Administration provides such notice before mid-November, it is reasonable to assume the PHE will be extended again.

The COVID-19 National Emergency

Unlike the COVID-19 PHE, the COVID-19 National Emergency is declared by the President and the declarations last for one-year unless an extension is granted. On March 13, 2020, the COVID-19 National Emergency was announced, and it has been extended every year since. Currently, the COVID-19 National Emergency is set to expire on March 1, 2023.

The COVID-19 National Emergency gave rise to the “Outbreak Period” in which certain deadlines were extended to provide relief from COVID-19. The COVID-19 National Emergency will permit the Outbreak Period to continue into 2023, which will permit the following deadlines to be extended until the earlier of (a) one year after the deadline, or (b) 60 days after the end of the Outbreak Period:

  • COBRA election deadline
  • COBRA premium payment deadline
  • HIPAA special enrollment deadline
  • ERISA claims filing deadline
  • Fiduciary relief for delayed provision of notices

Keep in mind, the deadlines applicable to the Outbreak Period are determined on an individual by individual basis and cannot last more than one year from the date the individual or plan was first eligible for relief. For more information regarding the COVID-19 National Emergency and Outbreak Period, see our prior Legal Updates here and here.

Please contact the employee benefits attorney at Seyfarth Shaw LLP with whom you usually work if you have any questions regarding the COVID-19 PHE or COVID-19 National Emergency.