Per a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) memorandum released May 14, 2020, the Department of Labor (DOL), in coordination with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Treasury Department, issued new rules extending key deadlines for health, retirement, and welfare plans subject to ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code. Employers are encouraged, but not required, to adopt the notice extensions. The deadline extensions are intended to provide relief to plan sponsors and participants impacted by COVID-19.

  1. Key Extensions

The following list of key extensions are retroactive to March 1, 2020:

  • Extends time for plans to furnish ERISA-required notifications to “as soon as administratively practicable”, Summaries of material modification(s) (SMM) and summary plan description(s) (SPD);
  • Benefit/claims determinations;
  • Blackout notices (30-day advanced notice as well as notices required after the blackout period begins);
  • Extends the COBRA Election Notice provision timeline (the 44-day timeframe for provision of notice to a qualified beneficiary) by disregarding the Outbreak Period.

In addition to formal extensions, the DOL will not take enforcement actions for temporary delays in forwarding participant contributions or loan repayments if the delays are attributable solely to the COVID-19 outbreak and compliance is achieved as soon as administratively practicable under the circumstances.

The Notice also encourages fiduciaries to make reasonable accommodations to prevent payment delays and benefit losses.

  1. Employee Extensions:
  • HIPAA Special Enrollment timeframes extended from 30 to 60-days;
  • Extends plan’s benefit claim filing deadlines; 
  • Extends plans’ deadline to file appeal of an adverse benefit determination to 180-day timeframe under a group health plan or disability plan;
  • Extends an ERISA plan’s deadline to file an external review request (four months for federal review, may be different for state);
  • Extends COBRA Qualifying Event Notice Deadlines (60-day employee notification for qualifying event);
  • Extends the COBRA Election Period (60-day timeframe/deadline for a qualified beneficiary to elect COBRA);

Extends COBRA Premium Payment Periods (45 days from COBRA election date to make initial premium deadline (or 30-day grace for subsequent premium payment deadlines, starting at the beginning of coverage month).