The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have issued a rule that requires all group health plans, disability plans, other employee welfare benefit plans, and employee pension benefit plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) or the federal tax code to extend certain deadlines for plan participants and beneficiaries during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. The extension applies to deadlines that occur during the “outbreak period,” which started on March 1, 2020, when the President declared a national emergency due to COVID-19. This “outbreak period” will end 60 days after the national emergency ends unless the agencies announce a different date. When measuring due dates, the time covered by the outbreak period doesn’t count.
The extensions cover a broad range of employee benefits deadlines, including notices under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). COBRA allows workers and their family members who would otherwise lose group health insurance due to loss of hours or other COBRA-qualifying reasons to continue their coverage by self-paying for a limited time. As a result of this new rule, they’ll have more time to elect COBRA continuation coverage. To help explain the rule, the DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) issued COVID-19 FAQs for Participants and Beneficiaries. The agency also issued EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01, which provides flexibility to benefits plan sponsors and administrators to issue required notices which normally would have been due during the outbreak period.
The EBSA also announced that it revised its model COBRA notices to help Medicare-eligible group health plan participants and beneficiaries understand how COBRA interacts with Medicare. The updated notices explain that it may be better to enroll in Medicare before or instead of electing COBRA. For more information, see the EBSA’s FAQS on the updated model COBRA notices.
Tips For Employers: Work with your third-party benefits administrator or other benefits adviser to ensure that your group health plan participants and beneficiaries are notified of any deadline extensions that apply to them. For example, if you offer a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) and normally require employees and their family members to submit claims incurred last year by April 30 of the current year, they may have extra time to file that paperwork. You may also want to be sure whoever issues your COBRA notices is aware of the new model notices. For information on what events trigger the obligation to send a COBRA notice, see our Legal Guide, COBRA Qualifying Events and Notice Schedule.