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:
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