The recent extension of the national emergency period affects the administration of the employee benefit plan | Bond Schoeneck & King SARL


President Biden again continued the national emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic (national emergency) on February 18. The national emergency was due to expire on March 1. In accordance with the advice issued by President Biden, the national emergency initially declared on March 13, 2020 (effective March 1, 2020), is to remain in effect beyond March 1, 2022.

The continuing national emergency is impacting some employee benefit plan deadlines. As described in our previous customer alert, a final rule issued jointly by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of the Treasury requires that the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the announced end of the national emergency (epidemic period) shall not be taken into account for the purposes of certain employee benefits planning deadlines. These deadlines include, for example, the 60-day election period for COBRA continuation coverage and the due date for making COBRA premium payments. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has also indicated that it will exercise its enforcement discretion to adopt a temporary policy of measured enforcement to extend similar timelines otherwise applicable to nonfederal government group health plans and to insurance issuers providing coverage under the Public Health Services Act. .

As the national emergency is still ongoing, the outbreak period will continue to be ignored when it comes to employee benefit plan deadlines.

However, as we also mentioned in our previous customer alert, later guidance clarified that the disregard period for certain benefit plan maturities applies on an individual basis. These subsequent guidelines stated that the disregarded period would end at the earliest of (a) one year from the date the data subject was first eligible for a waiver of an applicable time limit, or (b) 60 days after the announced end of the national emergency.

The continued national emergency and related continuation of the disallowed period for certain employee benefit plan maturities will remain a challenge for plan sponsors to ensure that affected participants and beneficiaries benefit extended deadlines. For example, plan sponsors must continue to resolve any administrative issues associated with the skipped period with respect to the timelines by which members must apply for special enrollment under a group health plan, make the choice of COBRA continuation coverage and/or make required COBRA premium payments. Plan sponsors should coordinate with their insurers and third-party administrators to ensure their plans are administered within these extended timelines.

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