Employee Benefits Deadline Extensions

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Departments of Health/Human Services, Labor and Treasury (DHS, DOL & DOT), along with the IRS have issued (April 29, 2019)  guidance that extends many of the deadline dates associated with various employee benefits related time frames.  This joint notice affects welfare benefit plans subject to ERISA, ACA, and HIPAA.  Importantly, these extensions are retroactive to March 1, 2020, and end “60 days after the announcement of the end of the COVID-19 national emergency or any other date determined by the DOL”.  The guidance applies to employee benefit plans, employers, labor organizations/sponsors, plan fiduciaries, participants/beneficiaries, and service providers.

If a deadline falls within the outbreak period, the outbreak period of time is disregarded in calculating the actual deadline for action, which effectively extends the time periods allowable for things like COBRA election/premium remittance, special enrollment into a replacement health plan, and appealing a claim denial.  Here are some of the key impacted employee benefit compliance deadline extensions:

  • – COBRA*– the time frames for employers providing event notices (generally 14 days), beneficiaries electing COBRA coverage (generally 60 days from receipt of notice) and the time period for premium payments by beneficiaries (initial premium payment – 45 days, subsequent payments, 30 days), and requests for disability extensions).  The aforementioned two indicated deadlines affecting coverage election and premium remittance are affected by the guidance.
  • – ERISA/ACA/HIPAA Notices, Disclosures, Documents – including SPDs, SBCs, Privacy Rights, etc.
  • – IRS Form 5500 – The IRS previously provided an extension for the filing of form 5500 for non-calendar year ending plans, which the joint notice duplicates. So for example, plans ending June 30, 2019 would have had filings due January 31, 2020 are now extended to April 15, 2020. There is no delay at this point, affecting calendar year plans.  Here’s a link to a chart providing filing deadline extension dates for various plan year end dates – https://www.natlawreview.com/article/irs-extends-form-5500-due-dates-some-employee-benefit-plans
  • – Health Insurance Special Enrollment Periods – generally 30 days for group plans, 60 days for individual plans
  • – Health Insurance Claim Filing Deadlines – generally 365 days from date of service
  • – Health Insurance Claim Appeals – generally 180 days from receipt of claim determination

Here’s what the deadline extensions look like, using the example of COBRA –

* A terminated employee lost health coverage on February 29, 2020.  The employer would have had 14 days to provide a COBRA election notice (deadline March 14, 2020), and the employee would have 60 days to make an election (deadline May 13, 2020) and another 45 days to make the initial premium payment (deadline June 27, 2020).  With the extension, the period from March 1, 2020, until 60 days after the “national emergency” ends is disregarded, per the guidance.  Assuming the COBRA notice would have already been provided, the employee would now have until 120 days after the National Emergency ends to elect COBRA—retroactive to March 1, 2020—and another 45 days after that to make the first premium payment.

There are other impacted benefits affected by the joint notice, including contributions and loan payments related to retirement plans.

The DOL has provided a detailed Q & A document addressing the deadline extensions granted by the joint notice – https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/EBSA/about-ebsa/our-activities/resource-center/faqs/covid-19.pdf