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Client Alert: COVID-19 Group Health Plan Service & Notification Requirements

On April 11, 2020, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury (Departments) jointly released frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding health care coverage issues surrounding the implementation of the FFCRA and the CARES Act. See Joint FAQs. Notably, the […]

On April 11, 2020, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury (Departments) jointly released frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding health care coverage issues surrounding the implementation of the FFCRA and the CARES Act. See Joint FAQs.

Notably, the Departments maintain that the FAQs are a statement of policy and are effective immediately.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was enacted on March 18, 2020 and requires health plans and insurers to provide certain items and services related to diagnostic testing for detection of SARS-CoV-2 or the diagnosis of COVID-19 without cost sharing or prior authorization from March 18, 2020 and during the applicable emergency period. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was enacted on March 27, 2020 and broadened the range of diagnostic items and services that plans and issuers must cover. These FAQs represent the Departments’ approach to assist employers, issuers, providers and other stakeholders to come into compliance as well as to help families understand the new laws.

Applicable Plans

The FFCRA and CARES Act apply to group health plans and health insurance issuers offering group or individual health insurance coverage. The term “group health plan” includes both insured and self-insured group health plans, whether they are ERISA plans, non-federal governmental plans or church plans. The term “individual health insurance coverage” includes individual market coverage through or outside of an Exchange. It also includes student health insurance coverage.

However, short-term, limited-duration insurance is not subject… neither are excepted benefits or plans covering less than two employees (such as retiree-only plans).

Duration of Compliance

The FFCRA provisions are effective March 18, 2020 and continue during the public health emergency.

Required Items & Services

Q3-Q5 address the type of items and services that are required under the FFCRA and CARES Act, including:

  • in vitro diagnostic test (meeting certain requirements) for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 or the diagnosis of COVID-19, and the administration of such tests; this includes serological tests for COVID-19, which are used to detect antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus; and 
  • items and services furnished to an individual during health care provider office visits (including in-person and telehealth visits), urgent care center visits, and emergency room visits that result in an order for or administration of an in vitro diagnostic product, but only to the extent the items and services relate to the furnishing or administration of the product or to the evaluation of the individual for purposes of determining the need of the individual for such product.

The required benefits must be furnished during office visits. The Departments construe the term “visit” broadly and include non-traditional care settings, such as drive-through screenings. See Q8.

Additionally, a recent IRS Notice issued just days ago states that testing and treatment for COVID-19 includes “the panel of diagnostic testing for influenza A & B, norovirus and other coronaviruses, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and any items or services required to be covered with zero cost sharing under … the CARES Act.” See IRS Notice 2020-29.

Notice 2020-29 also separately expands Notice 2020-15 to provide that reimbursement of expenses for testing and treatment of COVID-19 incurred on or after January 1, 2020 will not result in a high deductible health plan (HDHP) to fail to be an HDHP under Code section 223.

Cost-Sharing Requirements

Cost-sharing requirements (including deductibles, copayments and coinsurance), prior authorization requirements, and medical management requirements cannot be imposed for benefits that must be provided under section 6001(a) of the FFCRA, as amended by section 3201 of the CARES Act.

With regard to out-of-network providers, Q7 of the Joint FAQs provides that plans and issuers are required to provide coverage for such items and services even if providers have not agreed to accept a negotiated rate as payment in full. In such case, a cash price equal to the service as listed b the provider on a public internet website must be provided (or another amount may be negotiated for less than such cash price).

Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) Requirements & Mid-Year Changes

While material modifications to the SBC normally require that the plan provide 60 days advance notice, the Departments state that they will not take enforcement action regarding greater coverage of COVID-19 diagnosis and/or treatment, as long as plans and issuers provide notice of the changes as soon as reasonably practicable. This non-enforcement policy applies only while the COVID-19 public health emergency and/or COVID-19 national emergency declaration is in affect. Coverage changes beyond this emergency period must fully comply.

State Standards

States may impose additional standards or requirements on health insurance issuers regarding COVID-19 diagnosis or treatment, as long as they do not prevent application of a federal requirement.

Excepted Benefits

The FAQs describe types of excepted benefits, including employee assistance programs (EAPs), and provide that COVID-19 diagnosis and testing offered under an EAP will not jeopardize that EAP’s excepted benefit status while the COVID-19 public health or national emergency declaration is in effect. Additionally on-site medical clinics offering COVID-19 diagnosis and testing will remain excepted benefits.

Telehealth & Remote Care Services

The Departments maintain that widespread use of telehealth and other remote care services are essential to fight the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and they strongly encourage all plans and issuers to promote and notify individuals about these services.

The CARES Act has already offered flexibility with regard to high deductible health plans (HDHPs) and health savings accounts (HSAs)… stating that use of telehealth and other remote care services prior to the deductible being met will not jeopardize HDHP status, even if their use is not for COVID-19 related reasons. Moreover, individuals using telehealth or other such services outside of the HDHP may also still contribute to HSAs. The CARES Act amended Internal Revenue Code section 223(c) in this respect and will remain in effect from March 27, 2020 and for plan years beginning on or before December 31, 2021.

However, subsequently released IRS Notice 2020-29, mentioned above, provides that telehealth and other remote care services provided on or after January 1, 2020 (and applying for plan years beginning on or before December 31, 2021) will not affect HDHP status, expanding on the CARES Act which previously applied this rule effective as of March 27, 2020.

Similar to guidance previously stated in these FAQs, plans and issuers who add benefits (or reduce or eliminate cost sharing) for telehealth and other remote care services will temporarily be deemed not to violate notice of material modifications requirements or mid-year change restrictions. The Departments will apply the same non-enforcement policy as described above but only during the emergency declaration and only as long as notice is provided as soon as reasonably practicable.

Participant Communication and Lawsuits

Please keep in mind this is a Department non-enforcement policy and does not protect employers and plans from participant lawsuits.

As you are well aware, the law and guidance are rapidly evolving in this area. Please check with your Fraser Trebilcock attorney for the most recent updates.

This alert serves as a general summary, and does not constitute legal guidance. Please contact us with any specific questions.

We have created a response team to the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation and the law and guidance that follows, so we will continue to post any new developments. You can view our COVID-19 Response Page and additional resources by following the link here. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please contact your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.

Elizabeth H. Latchana specializes in employee health and welfare benefits. Recognized for her outstanding legal work, in both 2019 and 2015, Beth was selected as “Lawyer of the Year” in Lansing for Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law by Best Lawyers, and in 2017 as one of the Top 30 “Women in the Law” by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. Contact her for more information on this reminder or other matters at 517.377.0826 or

Brian T. Gallagher is an attorney at Fraser Trebilcock specializing in ERISA, Employee Benefits, and Deferred and Executive Compensation. He can be reached at (517) 377-0886 or