On April 28, 2020 the Employee Benefits Security Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, Internal Revenue Service, and Treasury Department published joint guidance extending certain important deadlines that are otherwise applicable to employee benefit plans. This relief was granted in an effort to preserve and protect the benefits of participants and beneficiaries in all employee benefit plans during the COVID-19 national emergency. These extensions apply to group health plans, disability and other welfare plans, pension plans, and their participants and beneficiaries.
Effective immediately, all plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended, or the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, must disregard certain legally-imposed deadlines over the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the declared end of the COVID-19 national emergency.
With respect to all plan participants, beneficiaries, qualified beneficiaries, or claimants, the relief applies when determining the following periods and dates:
- The 30-day period (or 60-day period, if applicable) to exercise special group health plan enrollment rights under HIPAA;
- The 60-day period for electing COBRA continuation coverage;
- The deadline for making timely COBRA premium payments;
- The applicable dates by which individuals must provide notice of a qualifying event relating to divorce, legal separation, or a dependent child ceasing to be a dependent or of a determination of disability during the first 60 days of COBRA continuation coverage or subsequent recovery from disability;
- The deadline by which an individual must file a benefit claim under a plan’s claims procedure;
- The period within which claimants may file an appeal of an adverse benefit determination under a plan’s claims procedure;
- The deadline by which claimants may file a request for an external review after receipt of an adverse benefit determination or final internal adverse benefit determination; and
- The date within which a claimant may file information to perfect a request for external review upon a finding that the prior request was not complete.
With respect to group health plans, and their sponsors and administrators, the same period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the declared end of the COVID-19 national emergency will be disregarded when determining the date for providing a COBRA election notice to qualified beneficiaries on account of a qualifying event.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), although not one of the agencies that published this guidance, has advised the other agencies that it will encourage the sponsors of plans that are not otherwise covered by the guidance to provide relief similar to that specified in the guidance to participants and beneficiaries. HHS will also encourage states and health insurance issuers offering coverage in connection with a group health plan to enforce and operate, respectively, in a manner consistent with the relief.
The Employee Benefits Security Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, Internal Revenue Service, and Treasury Department will continue to monitor the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak and may provide additional relief as warranted.
Visit our COVID-19 Resource Center often for up-to-date information to help you stay informed of the legal issues related to COVID-19.