Gov. Phil Murphy recently signed Executive Order No. 172 (EO 172), which amends his previous Executive Order No 115 (EO 115) that had extended health benefits to certain new hires hired specifically in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

EO 172 expands upon EO 115, by allowing any new or returning public employee eligible for enrollment into the State Health Benefits Program (SHBP) to immediately enroll upon hire, regardless of the reason for an employee’s hire or return to work.

There is otherwise a two-month waiting period before newly hired or returning state and municipal employees may become eligible to enroll for SHBP health benefits.

In the Executive Order, Gov. Murphy recognized that under EO 115 and existing law, newly-hired workers not necessarily hired specifically to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic (along with those who are returning from furloughs or other circumstances in which they did not retain health benefits through SHBP or maintain health benefits through COBRA) were unable to enroll immediately upon hiring in the SHBP.

However, in expanding eligibility to all returning employees and new hires, Governor Murphy recognized that the employment of “skilled professionals is essential to the State’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of health benefits coverage for newly hired personnel may serve as a deterrent to attracting and hiring staff with the necessary skills to respond to the pandemic,” Murphy further added in a press statement: “[w]e must ensure that our workforce has seamless access to health care, including preventive services and medical care relating to COVID-19, throughout this once-in-a-century pandemic.”

Gov. Murphy further stated that a two-month delay in enrollment eligibility could result in new and returning employees not having access to health benefits during a pandemic when seamless access to health care is essential. 

The terms of EO 172 apply to any public employee eligible for enrollment into the SHBP who are hired or return to employment on or after March 9, 2020.

EO 172 does not suspend any other statute, rule or regulation governing employees of government agencies, including but not limited to age limits and job qualifications. Public employers should review the Executive Order with their human resource professionals and amend any policies and procedures to reflect the temporary elimination of the SHBP waiting period. For guidance, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Government Law Group.