National Emergency Extended Once Again

In response to the outbreak of COVID-19, then-President Trump declared a National Emergency on March 1, 2020. Shortly before it was due to expire, on February 24, 2021, President Biden extended the National Emergency for another year. On February 18, 2022, Biden extended the National Emergency once again. At this time, there is no specific expiration date for the latest extension.

National Emergency status conveys special powers to the federal government and frees it from certain legal constraints. Among other provisions, National Emergency status enables the government to spend money and more easily take certain actions. Our focus in this blog article is the impact on employee benefit accounts of this further extension.

Impact on Employee Benefits

Extension of the National Emergency also automatically extends certain temporary rule changes regarding COBRA, HIPAA, and group health plans (including FSAs and HRAs) issued jointly by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Department of Labor (DOL) on April 29, 2020, and published in the Federal Register at 85 FR 26351 (May 4, 2020).

Per the rulemaking, the period from March 1, 2020, until 60 days after the end of the National Emergency (the “Outbreak Period”) must be disregarded in tolling the following deadlines:

  • COBRA Election Notice

The 14-day deadline (or 44 days, where the employer is the plan administrator) for a plan administrator to provide a COBRA election notice to qualified beneficiaries.

  • COBRA Qualifying Event and Disability Extension Notices

The 60-day deadline by which qualified beneficiaries must notify the plan of certain qualifying events (e.g., divorce or legal separation, a dependent child ceasing to be a dependent under the terms of the plan) or disability determination.

  • COBRA Election

The 60-day deadline to elect COBRA continuation coverage.

  • COBRA Premium Payments

The 45-day (for the initial payment) and 30-day (for subsequent payments) deadlines to timely pay COBRA premiums.

  • HIPAA Special Enrollment Period

The 30-day deadline (in some instances, 60-day) to request enrollment in a group health plan following a qualifying event (i.e., birth, adoption or placement for adoption of a child, marriage, loss of other health coverage, or eligibility for a state premium assistance subsidy).

  • Benefit Claims and Appeals (group health plans, FSAs, and HRAs)

The deadline under the plan by which participants may file a claim for benefits (under the terms of the plan) and the deadline for appealing an adverse benefit determination.

  • External Review

The 4-month period for the federal external review process for a claimant to file a request for external review. (This period could be different for a state external review process.)

  • Perfecting a Request for External Review

The 4-month period (or 48-hour following receipt of an incomplete request notification, if later) for a claimant to perfect an incomplete request for external review.

As a reminder, the agencies made clear in their notice issued February 26, 2021, that the COBRA tolling period applies on a person-by-person basis and plan administrators (TPAs and employers) will want to make certain they are calculating the deadlines correctly.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has published additional information on the most recent extensions.

The above is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult your third-party administrator (TPA) or qualified benefits counsel.

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