Public Health Emergency Extended to October 2022

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, a one-year National Public Health Emergency was declared in March 2020 and extended in February 2021 for another year. In February 2022, President Biden extended the National Public Health Emergency once again until October 2022.

CDC data shows that nearly half of the country’s population lives in a county with a “high COVID-19 Community Level,” where the health care system is at risk of becoming overburdened, and indoor masking is recommended.

What Does a Public Health Emergency Do?

National emergency status conveys special powers to the federal government and frees it from certain legal constraints. Among other provisions, the current National Public Health Emergency makes it easier for the government to take certain actions.

This article focuses on the impact of the extension on employee benefit accounts and their administration.

Impact on Employee Benefit Accounts

Extension of the National Public Health Emergency automatically extends the 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).

Effect on Deadlines

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 Deadlines

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

  • COBRA Qualifying Event and Disability Extension Notices Deadline

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 Deadline

The 60-day deadline to elect COBRA continuation coverage.

  • COBRA Premium Payments Deadline

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

  • HIPAA Special Enrollment Period Deadline

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) Deadline

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.

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. Plan administrators (TPAs and employers) will want to make certain they are calculating deadlines correctly.

Effect on Reviews

  • External Review

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

  • Perfecting a Request for External Review

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

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 for more information.

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