It's now been three years since the lockdown started, and, while the virus is still out there, it appears—fingers crossed—that the worst days of COVID are behind us. The last three years have been a trying time for all of us: well over a million deaths, uncomfortable masks and other protective measures, supply shortages, isolation, and, in the insurance industry, numerous temporary rule changes.

It appears those changes will be coming to an end soon. President Biden has declared that the national emergency due to COVID-19 will be ending May 11. And when it does, our clients will see some changes to their coverage. In this article, we'll discuss some of the changes you and your clients need to be aware of and point out what we believe to be a huge opportunity for agents.

What changes when the National Emergency ends?

As reported by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency will affect health coverage and access in several ways. Some of the key changes include:

  1. The rollback of the enhanced federal Medicaid funding, which, KFF explains, provided extra funds to states during the emergency.
  2. The end of continuous Medicaid coverage requirements, meaning states will no longer be obligated to maintain coverage for all enrolled individuals. Bloomberg Law points out the obvious, that this could leave some individuals without health coverage. A lot of individuals, in fact: “Medicaid enrollment increased by over 17 million from February 2020 to May 2022.”
  3. The loss of federal funding for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccination. With the end of the national emergency, there will be a reduction in federal funding to support free testing, treatment, and vaccination for uninsured individuals according to KFF. And for those with insurance, the federal government will no longer be paying the out-of-pocket costs for these services.
  4. The termination of certain telehealth flexibilities, as noted by Bloomberg Law, which could limit patients' access to virtual care services. AJMC elaborates on this point, saying that the expansion of telehealth services during the national emergency has been critical in maintaining access to care. However, with the end of the emergency, some of these expanded telehealth benefits may no longer be available. One piece of good news, as explained by KFF, is that “Expanded telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries…will remain unchanged through December 31, 2024.”

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has also released a COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Transition Roadmap that highlights additional changes expected at the end of the emergency. These changes include adjustments to provider reimbursement rates and the expiration of temporary waivers related to healthcare access and coverage.

How can agents capitalize on these changes?

As these changes unfold, insurance agents will want to educate their clients about how the official end of the national emergency will impact them. This value-add is a great client retention tool as existing clients will know that they can rely on you to keep them informed. 

Additionally, this could be a huge opportunity to write new business. Here are a few ideas:

Keeping clients informed: 

Staying updated on policy changes and communicating the effects of these changes to your clients will help them understand the potential impact on their coverage and on their access to care. Being proactive and transparent will help you maintain trust and credibility with your current clients. And, if you share this information on social media, it might also help you recruit new clients.

Helping prospective clients replace lost coverage

With the end of continuous Medicaid coverage requirements, some consumers may be at risk of losing coverage altogether. When they do, they will qualify for a special enrollment period. This is the opportunity we mentioned earlier. You can grow your business while helping families get the coverage they need. Remember that most of these individuals will qualify for significant premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions.

Reevaluating client needs and helping them navigate potential coverage gaps: 

As the national emergency comes to an end, this is a great time to reassess your clients' coverage needs and recommend any necessary adjustments to their plans. As we know, this may not be possible until the open enrollment period for many clients, but knowing that you need to have these sorts of conversations with your clients might encourage you to start earlier than normal. 

With the federal government no longer paying for testing, treatment, and vaccines, clients with health coverage will now be responsible for a portion of the cost. They need to know this, and this may be a factor when they are selecting plans during open enrollment. The agent’s job is to explore options that will minimize disruptions for their clients

Emphasizing the value of telehealth: 

Although telehealth flexibilities may be reduced, these services will still be available on most plans, and it’s important 1) to educate your clients about the benefits of telehealth and 2) to encourage them to continue to use virtual care services. Your clients may also consider purchasing a stand-alone telemedicine program.

Closing Thoughts

While we’re all ready to be done with the pandemic, the end of the COVID-19 national emergency will bring a range of changes to health insurance coverage and access. By staying informed and proactive, insurance agents can help clients navigate these changes and capitalize on new opportunities.