Editor's note: Since publication of this article, the Department of Labor has signaled that, despite President Biden ending the national emergency early, its previous guidance issued on March 29 stands, including guidance that the outbreak period will end on July 10.
President Joe Biden on Monday signed a Republican-led resolution to end the national COVID-19 emergency, a month earlier than originally planned. The national emergency is one of two COVID-19 emergencies that have granted special permissions and provided support during the pandemic.
The bill, H.J. Res. 7, passed the Senate in a 68-23 vote on March 29 after the House voted 229-197 in favor of the measure in February. Biden said earlier this year he did not support the resolution to end the emergency earlier, stating that "an abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system." But two weeks ago, he said he did not plan to veto the bill because he was preparing to wind down the federal emergencies related to COVID-19. The national COVID-19 emergency was declared by then-President Donald Trump in March 2020.
Although the signing of the bill immediately ends the COVID-19 national emergency, the public health emergency (PHE) remains in effect.
The Biden administration said in late January it had planned to end both the PHE and the national emergency on May 11—pronouncements that marked the beginning of a significant phase in the ongoing pandemic, as well as the ending of a series of benefits enabled by the emergencies.
"We certainly can't ignore the implications of this," Wade Symons, regulatory resources group leader at consulting and professional services firm Mercer, told SHRM Online last month regarding the planned ending of the COVID-19 emergencies. "It's something that [employers] have to consider from a cost perspective and administrative perspective—and from an employee communications perspective as well."
The emergencies have different effects. The PHE has more provisions that affect employers, such as COVID-19 testing and vaccine mandates. 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 once the emergency ends in May, that requirement changes, meaning medical plans, including employer-sponsored plans, do not have to pay for testing and will have to decide how to proceed.
The end of the national emergency, though, will have some significant impacts on health plan enrollment: It ends provisions that allowed for extended time for special enrollment in plans due to life events such as losing coverage, getting married or having children, experts told SHRM Online last month. Typically, employees have 30 days to enroll in a plan after such an event, but the national emergency gave people up to a year to enroll.
The special enrollment provision was due to end July 10, which is 60 days after the national emergency was due to end, but it is likely that date will now be pushed up a month. That date 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.
The U.S Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and U.S. Department of the Treasury recently released a frequently asked questions (FAQs) guidance that will help employers plan for the impact of the COVID-19 emergencies. SHRM Online has more information about the guidance.