In April and May of 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the IRS extended certain deadlines relating to employee benefit plans, such as the deadlines for requesting special enrollment in health plans, deadlines for COBRA elections and premium payments, and deadlines related to claims and appeals. This extension was intended to last for the duration of the “outbreak period,” which was defined as the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the announced end of the COVID National Emergency. Although no end to the emergency has been announced, by law, the agencies only have authority to extend deadlines for up to one year. As a result, the extension period for many deadlines was set to end on February 28, 2021.
In response to the end of the extension, the DOL issued Notice 2021-01, clarifying how various deadlines would be affected. This guidance indicates that the extension will apply to plans and participants on an individual basis by pausing each deadline until the earlier of (1) one year from the date the plan or participant was first eligible for relief, or (2) 60 days after the announced end of the COVID National Emergency. For example, if an individual would have been required to elect COBRA continuation coverage by April 1, 2020, they would now be required to elect such coverage by April 1, 2021 (one year from the original deadline). However, if an individual would have been required to elect COBRA continuation coverage by March 1, 2021, they would now be required to elect such coverage by March 1, 2022, or if sooner, 60 days after the end of the outbreak period.
In response to these changing deadlines, plan sponsors and administrators are required to act reasonably and in the interests of employees and plan beneficiaries. This may require sending notices to individuals whose extended deadlines are approaching. Sponsors and administrators may also need to review past notices to ensure that they accurately communicated the end of the relief period. Finally, plan sponsors may want to notify participants of other coverage alternatives where appropriate.
For more information on this guidance, or if you have questions about these changes, please contact your primary Varnum attorney, or any member of the Employee Benefits Practice Team.