Coronavirus and Benefit Plans: Federal Guidance and Relief

Extends existing deadlines for COBRA and more

June 02, 2020  

As you may be aware, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Department of the Treasury, and Internal Revenue Service recently issued joint guidance and relief for benefit plans due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The guidance extends existing deadlines for:

  • Special enrollment periods
  • Enrollment in and payment for COBRA
  • Notification of COBRA qualifying events or determination of disability
  • Filing of benefit claims
  • Appeals of adverse benefit determination, and
  • Requests for external reviews

This guidance applies from March 1, 2020, the beginning of the COVID-19 National Emergency declared by the President, until 60 days after the announcement of the end of the National Emergency “or such other date announced by the Department in a future notice.”

In addition to extending deadlines for enrollment and payment, the regulations also extend the time allowed for plan officials to furnish benefit statements, annual funding notices, and other notices and disclosures required by ERISA “so long as they make a good faith effort to furnish the documents as soon as administratively practicable.”

The announcement regarding the new guidance, and links to the guidance itself, can be found here.

Tufts Health Plan implementation

  • Tufts Health Plan Enrollment has implemented the Department of Labor (DOL) guidance. As a result, if employers need more time to enroll based on qualifying life events (including enrollment into COBRA), we will not enforce the 60-day retroactive disenrollment policy until 60 days after the end of the National Emergency (a date not yet determined).
  • Additionally, if members are unable to pay their COBRA premium, any collections process would not be initiated until a minimum of 60 days after the end of the National Emergency. Please note that in the event a COBRA member is ultimately unable to pay, we would retroactively disenroll them upon request and any claims paid will be reprocessed.

Background and high-level overview

  • The U.S. Department of Labor, Department of the Treasury, and Internal Revenue Service are offering relief with respect to filing and reporting deadlines, as well as other guidance under ERISA that affects employee benefit plan sponsors, participants, employers, and other plan fiduciaries impacted by the COVID-19 National Emergency.
  • The guidance released:
    • Extends the time for plan officials to furnish benefit statements, annual funding notices, and other notices and disclosures required by ERISA so long as they make a good faith effort to furnish the documents as soon as administratively practicable;
    • Includes a set of consumer-focused Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on health benefit and retirement benefit issues to help employee benefit plan participants and beneficiaries, plan sponsors, and employers impacted by COVID-19 to understand their rights and responsibilities under ERISA;
    • Includes substantial changes to deadlines, such as for special enrollment periods and COBRA election.

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