May 11 marks the end of the COVID-19 pandemic public health emergency (PHE)—the beginning of a significant phase in the pandemic response in the U.S., as well as the ending of a series of benefits enabled by the emergency.
President Joe Biden announced earlier this year he would not renew the PHE or the pandemic national emergency again after May. Both had been in place since early 2020. Biden signed a resolution in April ending the national emergency earlier than intended, although that early end didn't shift some of the original deadlines as spelled out in previous administration guidance.
The end of the PHE means a number of provisions will end, including mandates that health insurance plans fully cover COVID-19 testing without employee cost-sharing. May 11 also will mark the end of the COVID-19 vaccine mandates for federal employees, federal contractors and some health care workers.
There are significant implications for employers regarding the end of PHE, as well as the end of the national emergency, said Wade Symons, regulatory resources group leader at consulting and professional services firm Mercer. Organizations will need to make decisions regarding COVID-19 vaccine and testing coverage, as well as other issues.
So what should employers know? What should they do? We rounded up SHRM Online stories to help employers better understand what the end of the emergencies means.
Employers Will Have to Make Decisions for the End of the Emergencies
What exactly does the end of the PHE and national emergency mean for employers and their health and benefits plans? And how should they address it?
The PHE, for instance, mandates that health insurance plans fully cover COVID-19 testing without employee cost-sharing, on both an in- and out-of-network basis. But that requirement now changes, meaning medical plans, including employer-sponsored plans, do not have to pay for testing and will have to decide how to proceed.
"That's a bit of a decision point," Mercer's Symons said. "Employers will have to decide: How are we going to cover COVID testing going forward? Are we going to continue to do what we did before and pay for it? Are we going to limit it to in-network only? Are we going to restrict further how employees can get over-the-counter tests?"
New Guidance Helps Employers Navigate End of the Emergency Orders
Employers have some clarity on test and vaccine coverage and on how to unwind pandemic-era extended deadlines, including for COBRA continuing health care coverage elections.
This clarity comes courtesy of frequently asked questions (FAQ) guidance issued March 29 by the U.S Department of Labor (DOL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and U.S. Department of the Treasury. The FAQ guidance includes details on COVID-19 diagnostic testing, coverage of vaccines, and the extended deadlines for COBRA, special enrollments, and group health plan claims and appeals.
COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate for Federal Workers Will End May 11
The Biden administration announced May 1 that the COVID-19 vaccine mandates for federal employees, federal contractors and some health care workers also will end on May 11.
"While vaccination remains one of the most important tools in advancing the health and safety of employees and promoting the efficiency of workplaces, we are now in a different phase of our response when these measures are no longer necessary," the White House said in a statement. HHS and the Department of Homeland Security will also end their vaccine requirements for Head Start employees and health care workers at many facilities certified by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, according to the White House.
Biden Ends Pandemic National Emergency
Biden signed a Republican-led resolution to end the pandemic national emergency on April 10, a month earlier than originally planned. The national emergency is one of two that have granted special permissions and provided support during the pandemic.
Early End to National Emergency Won’t Change July 10 Deadline
Biden in April ended the pandemic national emergency weeks earlier than expected—but the premature ending won't shift the deadlines spelled out in the administration's guidance from March, including the extended deadline for special enrollment in health plans.
The DOL has unofficially clarified that although the national emergency ended April 10 instead of May 11, previous guidance it issued in the form of frequently asked questions stands, including that the outbreak period—originally slated for 60 days after the national emergency ends—will still end on July 10. That date is significant for employers because it marks the end of the special enrollment period that gives employees up to a year to enroll in a health plan after a major life event, rather than the standard 30 days employees normally have to enroll in a plan after such an event.
July 10 will also mark the end of some COBRA-related relief, under which employees were allowed extra time to pay their COBRA premiums or to decide whether they wanted to use the coverage.