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Biden Administration Extends National Emergency for Another Year

Updated March, 2022

Issue Date: February 2022

 

Introduction

On February 18, 2022, President Biden formally extended the COVID-19 National Emergency for up to another year. The National Emergency first went into effect on March 1, 2020, and after being first extended in February 2021, was set to expire on March 1, 2022.

Background

After a National Emergency was declared as of March 1, 2020, regulatory agencies jointly issued a final rule in April extending several specific notice and disclosure deadlines applicable under HIPAA, COBRA, and ERISA. The rule effectively extended the time participants were given for things like COBRA elections, COBRA payments, HIPAA special enrollments, and ERISA claims filing and appeals. In addition to the final rule, the DOL issued Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01, granting some leniency regarding enforcement of the timing and delivery method for plan sponsor disclosures required under ERISA. The rules apply broadly to all employer-sponsored benefits subject to ERISA and COBRA. The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) indicated that similar relief was available to non-federal governmental plans as well.

For the period of time beginning March 1, 2020, until 60 days after the National Emergency is over (the “Outbreak Period”), all group health plans, disability plans, other employee welfare benefit plans, and employee pension plans must disregard this time period when administering plans with respect to notices, disclosures and other deadlines covered by the rule.

Conclusion

This most recent extension of the National Emergency further extends the duration of the Outbreak Period. It is possible that President Biden will end the National Emergency before another year passes, but this remains to be seen. Plan sponsors should be aware that the extended deadlines for participants under HIPAA, COBRA, and ERISA remain in effect for the time being and ensure that their plans continue to operate in accordance with the requirements for any deadlines.

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EBSA Disaster Relief Notice Update 2021-01

Updated March 10, 2021

The Department of Labor on February 26, 2021 issued EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01, which lays out clarifying guidance on the length of COVID-19 relief allowed by the Timeline Extension Rule.

Under previous guidance issued in April 2020, various deadlines were extended by disregarding the period between March 1, 2020, and 60 days after the end of the national emergency. Also referred to as the outbreak period, it fundamentally acts as a pause button for calculating various time frames; such as the 60-day election period for COBRA and the 30 – or 60-day period to request special enrollment under HIPAA.

Under the new guidance described in EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01, the DOL clarified that the outbreak period will certainly continue until 60 days after the end of the national emergency.

However, the DOL also recognizes that individual extensions are limited to a one-year period by statute. Therefore, as explained in the Notice, while the time frame extensions will continue beyond February 28, they will be applied on an individual basis, and in no case will any individual extension go beyond one year.

Examples:

If a qualified beneficiary would have been required to make a COBRA election by March 1, 2020, the relief delays that requirement until February 28, 2021, which is the earlier of one year from March 1, 2020, or the end of the outbreak period (which remains ongoing).

Similarly, if a qualified beneficiary would have been required to make a COBRA election by March 1, 2021, that election requirement would be delayed until the earlier of 1 year from that date (i.e., March 1, 2022) or the end of the Outbreak Period.

Likewise, if a plan would have been required to furnish a notice or disclosure by March 1, 2020, the relief would end with respect to that notice or disclosure on February 28, 2021. The responsible plan fiduciary would be required to ensure that the notice or disclosure was furnished on or before March 1, 2021. In all of these examples, the delay for actions required or permitted that is provided by the Notices does not exceed 1 year.

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EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01

COBRA Deadline Extensions

Updated May 12, 2020

On April 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) issued guidance providing significant deadline extensions and other relief to assist employee benefit plans, plan participants and beneficiaries, employers and other plan sponsors, plan fiduciaries, and other service providers impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. The guidance applies to health and welfare plans and retirement plans and follows the March 13, 2020 declaration of a federal emergency resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The CARES Act (COVID-3 Stimulus Bill)

Updated March 31, 2020

The “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or the “CARES Act” was signed into law on March 27, 2020. What exactly does this mean? This new bill contains many employee benefit-related items. The revisions permanently reinstate coverage of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and medicines as eligible for reimbursement from FSAs, HRAs, and HSAs without the necessity of a prescription, assuming the employer’s plan documents allow so. It further expands the definition of qualified OTC items to include eligible menstrual care products that can be purchased with these funds. This change is effective for expenses incurred on or after January 1, 2020.

As the industry makes this important transition, the implementation of the new eligible item list will gradually occur over the next 4-6 weeks.

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