Update: New guidance was issued February 26, 2021, and can be seen here.
Last April, the Departments of Labor and Treasury (the Departments) issued guidance that extended certain employee benefit time frames due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the guidance issued, multiple deadlines were extended by disregarding the period between March 1, 2020, and 60 days after the end of the national emergency. This period is referred to as the outbreak period and included the following participant time frames:
- The HIPAA special enrollment deadline
- The COBRA election deadline
- The COBRA premium payment deadline
- The deadline for filing a claim or appeal for benefits or a request for an external review of an adverse benefits determination
At the time the guidance was issued, it was widely believed that the national emergency would end during 2020. The extensions made by the Departments were done under their authority pursuant to existing law under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code—which gives these Departments the authority to extend relief for up to a one-year period.
Therefore, although the national emergency has not yet come to an end, and absent further guidance or Congressional action, the outbreak period is scheduled to end on February 28, 2021.
Deadlines that were extended by the outbreak period should resume tolling effective March 1, 2021, using the normal time frames. For example, if an individual had exhausted 15 days of his or her 60-day COBRA election period prior to March 1, 2020, the individual would have 45 days remaining, beginning on March 1, 2021. There is not an additional 60-day period following February 28, 2021, as there would have been had the national emergency caused the end of the outbreak period.
While it is generally believed that there is no legal requirement for employers to notify plan participants of the end of the outbreak period, certain employers may wish to provide such notification. Regardless, employers should communicate with their COBRA and claims administration vendors to ensure a consistent approach in any communication efforts, as well as in applying the outbreak period.
Reach out to your Hylant representative for further information.
The above information does not constitute advice. Always contact your employee benefits broker or trusted adviser for insurance-related questions.