COVID-19 Joint Agency Relief Part 3: COBRA and Special Enrollment Extensions

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government recently issued guidance extending various benefits-related deadlines. The guidance includes a Notification of Relief that essentially tolls the timeframes associated with various rights until after the COVID-19 National Emergency. In this alert, we focus on what the tolling means with respect to plan sponsor obligations and participant rights under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) special enrollment provisions.

For the full alert, visit the Faegre Drinker website.

Agencies Provide COVID-19-Related Extension for Numerous Benefit Plan Deadlines

On April 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Internal Revenue Service issued a new final rule and additional guidance that together extend numerous deadlines under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code (Code) that apply to group health plans, retirement plans, and participants in those plans (Extension Guidance). The extensions, which are being enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and pursuant to the authority granted to the DOL by the CARES Act, promise to have a significant impact on employers’ administration of various benefit plan requirements, such as administration of benefit plan claims and appeals, COBRA continuation coverage and mid-year special enrollment in group health plan coverage.

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Beware the Snake in the Grass: COBRA Election Notice Considerations During The COVID-19 Pandemic

With most of the nation on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers are in the unfortunate position of having to lay off workers or significantly reduce their hours. If these workers also lose employer-sponsored health coverage, they will experience a “qualifying event” under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (“COBRA”), triggering the requirement to send COBRA election notices describing the employee’s (and spouse’s) right to elect to temporarily stay on their employer’s health plan. In these difficult times, employers should review their notices to ensure they are compliant with COBRA and provide adequate information to employees. Compliance is especially important because COBRA notices have become the subject of a growing trend of class action lawsuits filed by ex-employees alleging that their former employers did not provide sufficient notice of their COBRA rights.

Generally, COBRA requires notices to be drafted in a manner that the average plan participant can understand, and must provide specifics about continuation coverage, such as the contact information for the administrator, how to elect coverage, and how much coverage costs. The DOL has issued model notice letters to help employers meet these requirements.

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