Covid Is Over—But What Does That Mean for Employee Health Benefits?
On March 14, 2020, the United States government declared Covid-19 to be a Public Health Emergency.
This declaration set off a chain of events that affected everything—including employee healthcare benefits. Normal life has more or less resumed recently as employees have returned to the office. However, the federal Public Health Emergency remained active, with ongoing implications for benefits providers.
All that changed on May 11, 2023, when the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced an official end to the Public Health Emergency (PHE).
The end of the PHE will have an impact on employee healthcare coverage. So, what does this mean for employers?
How employers should respond to the end of the Covid Pandemic
As an employer, your role is to clarify and communicate any policy changes. Here’s a checklist to help avoid any confusion or disappointment:
1. Inquire about policy changes
First, reach out to your benefits carriers and ask them questions like:
- Will they continue to cover Covid testing, vaccinations, and other related services?
- If not, how will employee coverage operate in the future?
- Are there any other material changes in coverage employees should know about?
- Will there be an amended summary plan description or other related documents, and how will these be distributed to employees?
Carriers may have already reached out to you about upcoming changes, but it’s still a good idea to speak with them and confirm details of the changes so you can clearly communicate the information to your employees.
2. Communicate changes to employees
Employees should know as soon as possible about any changes in their healthcare coverage. Here are some communication tips:
- Provide a detailed summary of all changes and explain exactly how they might impact employees
- Make sure employees are given their updated plan documents as soon as possible
- Educate HR and managers about the changes so they can answer employee questions on a one-to-one basis
- If an employee asks a question you can’t answer, raise the issue with your benefits carrier or broker
Healthcare is a very personal issue, and employees want to make sure they and their families are fully covered in terms of their needs. Open communication can help put any fears to rest.
3. Be prepared for changes in mid-year benefits enrollment
The official end of the pandemic also brings changes to things like Medicaid eligibility and CHIP coverage. The DOL explains the details in their FAQs, but the main implication for employers is your employees may need to make mid-year changes to their health coverage.
A few tips for preparing for this:
- Consult with your benefits carriers to ensure you understand the terms of policy amendments and mid-year enrollment eligibility
- Make sure that HR and managers understand what kind of mid-year changes are possible, so they can support employees and answer questions
- If you have a self-service benefits platform, ensure employees can use this platform to request changes to their health coverage
- Otherwise, make sure you have a robust internal process that handles enrollment change requests quickly and accurately
Again, this is a sensitive issue for your people. It’s a good chance to show you value them by offering the right kind of support and advice.
4. Review your COBRA policies
What about terminated employees who have continued their healthcare coverage through COBRA? COBRA compliance is already a challenge, which is why many employers outsource this responsibility. If you manage it in-house, then here are some things to bear in mind:
- Speak to your benefits carriers to confirm how policy changes may impact these former employees who have continued their health benefits through COBRA
- Communicate changes to the affected prior employees as soon as possible, and make sure they receive updated plan documents
- Designate a point of contact in HR to answer any questions related to COBRA coverage changes
- Update your HR compliance guidelines accordingly
COBRA non-compliance can result in fines, so make sure you follow the rules and document your actions.
Need help with HR compliance?
HR compliance can be a headache, especially when you have a growing team. That's why it's best to work with a trusted partner that can help you follow all regulations—while also creating an outstanding employee experience.
Helios HR has been helping businesses in the Greater D.C. area since 2001. Our consultants have an unsurpassed knowledge of local, state and federal HR regulations, and they can help manage your compliance responsibilities.