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See Update from 04/13/2023
In 2021, the IRS and DOL released guidance about the National State of Emergency, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on employer-qualified beneficiaries. Part of the emergency relief was the requirement for plans subject to ERISA or the Internal Revenue Code to disregard the “Outbreak Period” for typical COBRA employer beneficiaries' time-frames such as:
The “Outbreak Period” is defined as the period beginning March 1, 2020 and ending 60 days from the end of the COVID-19 National Emergency. Essentially Plans suspended regular COBRA employer beneficiaries' timeframes over the last several years, allowing COBRA beneficiaries extra time to pay, or elect COBRA, and allowing Plan Administrators additional time to handle special administrative duties.
In January, the Biden Administration declared its intended end date of the National State of Emergency and public health emergency to be effective May 11th, 2023.
This would mean that the extensions of time for Plans and Participants for employer-qualified beneficiaries will come to an end as of July 10th, 2023, 60 days following the National State of Emergency End date.
Plan Administrators and Benefits Professionals should prepare for the upcoming changes as they will impact both notified and enrolled COBRA-qualified beneficiaries on a national level. Plans for COBRA employer beneficiaries should prepare for the return of “standard” time-frames, such as the usual COBRA 60-day election period, 45 day initial payment period, and 30-day grace period.
Plans should also be proactive, and understanding of the fact that there may be individuals who have been taking advantage of these extensions, and such individuals will no longer be able to do so as of July 10th, 2023.
In EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01, the Departments have suggested that failure to give fair notice to such individuals may be a breach of fiduciary duty:
where the plan administrator or other responsible plan fiduciary knows, or should reasonably know, that the end of the relief period for an individual action is exposing a participant or beneficiary to a risk of losing protections, benefits, or rights under the plan, the administrator or other fiduciary should consider affirmatively sending a notice regarding the end of the relief period. Moreover, employer-qualified beneficiaries plan disclosures issued prior to or during the pandemic may need to be reissued or amended if such disclosures failed to provide accurate information regarding the time in which participants and beneficiaries were required to take action, e.g., COBRA election notices and claims procedure notices.
At this time, it is recommended that Employers make action plans that may be necessary to provide sufficient notice to COBRA-qualified employer beneficiaries.
COBRA-related notices should be updated, advising individuals of the impending end of the extension periods as they pertain to COBRA continuation coverage at no charge to our customers. We will continue to provide updates as the Departments release them in coming weeks and months.
Plans should be on the lookout for upcoming guidance, and prepare for all impending changes in coming months as much as possible.
CobraHelp is here to help Employers, Benefits Professionals, and Plans with the complexities associated with these upcoming changes and compliance duties. Please don’t hesitate to contact us today!
The information in this website is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from CobraHelp. or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this Post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.