The U.S. Department of Labor issued a notice that addresses how the extension announced last year for certain employee benefit deadlines will apply now that the commencement date for the extension has passed its one-year anniversary.
Last spring, the DOL and IRS issued two notices that extended various deadlines for employee benefit plans and their participants.
The guidance provided relief to plans from the enforcement of specific timing requirements for certain notices, disclosures, and documents, as long as the plans acted in good faith to provide them as soon as practical. It also allowed individuals additional time to take certain actions, such as making special enrollment and COBRA elections, paying COBRA premiums, and filing claims for benefits under ERISA plans.
The guidance extended deadlines by providing that a period of time, called the “Outbreak Period,” would not count toward the deadline. The Outbreak Period began March 1, 2020, and was to end 60 days after the declared end of the national emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic. The national emergency still has not ended. However, by statute, the DOL and IRS have the power to extend deadlines for a national emergency for only one year.
The new guidance interprets the one-year period as applying not to a fixed calendar date (such as the period from March 1, 2020 through February 28, 2021), but to each particular action affected by the extension. Thus, an individual whose regular deadline for electing COBRA coverage would have been May 15, 2020, must make the election no later than May 14, 2021. The period for any particular action may end earlier if the national emergency ends more than 60 days before the end of that one-year period.
As with the prior guidance, the IRS has concurred with the guidance. The Department of Health and Human Services also concurred with the guidance, but its concurrence may not have as much effect, as it did not formally extend deadlines last year.
The notice provides that plan fiduciaries should consider providing individuals appropriate notice of the termination of deadlines, so the individuals may take action to, for example, procure health coverage through the Marketplace.