On January 30, 2023, President Biden announced the Administration’s plan to extend the current declarations of the COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency (PHE) through May 11, 2023, and end both emergencies on that date. The end of the national emergency, which was originally declared in March 2020, will cause certain employee benefit plan-related deadline extensions to conclude this summer.
Specifically, under relief that the Department of Labor, the Department of the Treasury, and the Internal Revenue Service jointly provided effective March 1, 2020, the timeframes for taking the following actions were extended during the “Outbreak Period” for up to one year:
- Exercising group health plan special enrollment rights;
- Electing COBRA continuation coverage;
- Paying COBRA premiums;
- Notifying a group health plan of a COBRA qualifying event or a determination of disability;
- Filing a benefit claim under an ERISA-governed employee benefit plan’s claims procedures;
- Filing an appeal of an adverse benefit determination under an ERISA-governed employee benefit plan; and
- Requesting (and perfecting a request for) external review of a group health plan’s adverse benefit determination or final internal adverse benefit determination.
The “Outbreak Period” is the period extending until 60 days after the end of the COVID-19 national emergency, absent the agencies’ announcing another date. If the national emergency ends on May 11, 2023, as the Administration is currently contemplating, July 10, 2023 will mark the end of the “Outbreak Period,” and deadlines for the actions listed above will default to the timeframes set forth in the relevant plan documents and statutes. This means that any deadline that was tolled during the Outbreak Period and has not already expired will begin to run again once the Outbreak Period expires on July 10, 2023.
Plan sponsors and administrators should prepare for questions from participants concerning the conclusion of these tolling measures and determine if they need to take other steps to ensure the integrity of plan documents and administrative processes. For example, sponsors may wish to review their plan documents to confirm that they contain automatic expiration dates for the end of the Outbreak Period. Also, administrators should review claim notices and documentation that will be transmitted as the Outbreak Period comes to an end and thereafter to ensure that the notices provide participants with accurate information about their procedural rights and obligations. Administrators also might want to consider sending notices to individuals whose deadlines have been tolled informing them that the automatic extensions are ending and their deadlines for taking action to preserve their rights may be upcoming.
This post does not detail every change relevant to employee benefit plans that is triggered by the end of the COVID-19 national emergency. If you have questions about how the end of the COVID-19 national emergency may affect your benefit plans, please contact a member of the Faegre Drinker Benefits & Executive Compensation team.
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