President Joe Biden last month ended the COVID-19 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 Department of Labor 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 to end 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.
"Both orders—the national emergency and the [public health emergency]—had been set to expire on May 11," Timothy J. Stanton and Kristine M. Bingman, attorneys with the law firm Ogletree Deakins, wrote in a blog post. "In response to H. J. Res. 7, the agencies have clarified informally that they intend to continue to use May 11—rather than April 10—as the relevant date in applying guidance on the end of the national emergency."
On April 10, Biden signed H.J. Res. 7, 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-related emergencies that have granted special permissions and provided support during the pandemic.
The emergencies have different effects. The public health emergency (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-network and out-of-network basis. But once the PHE 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 PHE is set to end on May 11.
The Biden administration announced May 1 that the COVID-19 vaccine mandates for federal employees, federal contractors and some health care workers will end on May 11, the same day the public health emergency ends.