Last spring, in response to the COVID-19 emergency, the DOL and IRS provided joint guidelines (the “Notice”) extending certain deadlines for employee benefit plans, including deadlines to elect COBRA, pay COBRA premiums, and provide COBRA election notices, as well as elect HIPAA special enrollment, file a claim or appeal for benefits, and request an external review of a denied claim (the “Plan Deadlines”).
The 2020 guidance stated that the Plan Deadlines would be suspended beginning March 1, 2020, and continuing until the sixtieth day after the end of the COVID-19 National Emergency. The deadline suspensions provided by that Notice were limited by statute to one year, however, and were generally expected to expire on February 28, 2021, at the latest. However, as that expiration date approached, the DOL issued Notice 2021-01, which provided for additional suspensions of Plan Deadlines on an individualized basis.
Under Notice 2021-01, the DOL directs that Plan Deadlines should continue to be suspended until the earlier of (1) one year from the date an individual was first eligible for relief, or (2) 60 days after the announced end of the National Emergency (the “Rolling Outbreak Period”). Consequently, Plan Deadlines with action periods that did not commence on or before March 1, 2020, will be afforded the same relief as initially tolled Plan Deadlines, meaning that (1) tolling will not universally end on February 28, 2021, and (2) employers will need to determine Rolling Outbreak Periods for each respective Plan Deadline for which tolling did not commence until after March 1, 2020. Below are some tips to help employers determine new Plan Deadlines.