COVID-19: Extension of Timeframes for Employee Benefit Plan Participants

(Update: March 2021)

Please be advised that the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) and the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) (collectively, “the Agencies”), recently issued updated guidance regarding the Timeline Extensions Rule (the Rule). As Delta Health Systems previously advised (see below), the Rule was implemented in May 2020 and extended certain deadlines for participants who were enrolled in employee health plans and may have also been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. As an example, you may have been granted an extended timeline to elect COBRA continuation coverage under your group health plan.

On February 26, 2021, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01 to provide additional guidance regarding the duration of the relief afforded by the Timeline Extensions Rule. Additional guidance was required because, on one hand, the Rule tied the extended deadlines to the end of the National Emergency (which has not yet ended). On the other hand, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) only permits timeline extensions for up to a year (and the national emergency has persisted for over a year). Notice 2021-01 clarifies that timeline extensions under the Rule will last “until the earlier of (a) 1 year from the date [participants] were first eligible for relief, or (b) 60 days after the announced end of the National Emergency.” Further, it clarifies that “In no case will [timeline extensions] exceed 1 year.”

As an example, “if a qualified beneficiary would have been required to make a COBRA election by March 1, 2021, the guidance delays the election requirement until the earlier of 1 year from that date (i.e., March 1, 2022) or [60 days after] the end [of the National Emergency].”

Given the updated guidance, Delta Health Systems will calculate extended participant deadlines based on the date that you were first eligible for relief under the Rule. We will also provide you with notice once your relief period, to elect COBRA or remit payment for COBRA coverage, has ended.

For more information, please see the DOL’s COVID-19 FAQs for Participants and Beneficiaries.

On May 4, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) and the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) (collectively, “the Agencies”), published a Rule that extended certain deadlines for participants who are enrolled in employee benefit plans and may also be affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The Agencies implemented this Rule to minimize the number of participants who may lose coverage due to an inability to meet the deadlines established by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA).

Under the Rule, participants will be permitted additional time to:

More specifically, group health plans must disregard the “Outbreak Period” when calculating the above deadlines. The Outbreak Period will be retroactive, beginning on March 1, 2020 and ending sixty (60) days after the end of the National Emergency (or such other date announced by the Agencies). Because the National Emergency does not yet have a definitive end date, Delta Health Systems is unable to advise participants regarding the exact extensions for the above deadlines. We will, however, continue to monitor updates and guidance from the federal government in order to assist our health plan clients in complying with the Rule.