The last few years have seen dozens of lawsuits filed alleging failures associated with COBRA election notices. Generally, these complaints allege that (i) any deviations from the DOL model COBRA election notice (a) were done to save money for the employer and deter employees from electing coverage, and (b) resulted in a notice that would not be understood by the average participant, and (ii) the election notices did not include the required content prescribed by applicable COBRA regulations. Recent cases highlight another area of potential litigation–whether proper mailing procedures for the election notices have been followed and can be proven by the employer. In one such case, a former employee was provided a COBRA election notice for medical coverage that was sent to her former mailing address because an updated address had not been provided to the employer’s third-party COBRA administrator. The court noted that the employer’s delegation of COBRA… Continue Reading
Last year, the DOL and IRS issued joint guidance providing that certain plan related deadlines, including the 60-day deadline to elect COBRA continuation coverage and the 45-day deadline to make COBRA premium payments, would be suspended during the “COVID-19 outbreak period” (i.e., the time period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the end of the national emergency or other date announced by the government) for up to one year. The DOL released other guidance earlier this year clarifying that the one-year deadline suspension is applied on an individual basis (see our prior blog post on that guidance here). Recently, the IRS issued Notice 2021-58 (the “Notice”), which clarifies that the extended timeframes for an individual to (i) elect COBRA continuation coverage, and (ii) make initial and subsequent COBRA premium payments, generally run concurrently. The Notice provides that if an individual elects COBRA coverage after the 60-day election period… Continue Reading
As Plan Administrator, the Employer is Liable – Not the Service Provider (i.e., What Kind of Indemnification Are You Getting?)
The plan administrator of an employee benefit plan (employee welfare or retirement) has the general fiduciary responsibility under ERISA to ensure the operational and documentary compliance of the plan. Under ERISA, the sponsoring employer is the plan administrator unless another person or entity is named in the plan. This generally means the employer retains ultimate responsibility and liability for legal compliance even though the employer may rely heavily on the plan’s third-party service providers. One way to mitigate this liability is to obtain indemnification from a service provider for the service provider’s errors, for which the employer (as plan administrator) would still be legally liable. The default language in third-party service provider contracts often provides indemnification only for the service provider’s “gross negligence”, but not its “ordinary negligence”, thus leaving the employer responsible for correcting (and paying for) errors caused by the service provider that do not amount to “gross negligence” or “intentional… Continue Reading
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (the “ARPA”) provides a 100% COBRA premium subsidy (the “COBRA Subsidy”) to certain COBRA qualified beneficiaries, which we previously reported on here, here, and here. Under the ARPA, the COBRA Subsidy is set to expire on September 30, 2021. The APRA requires that certain notices be sent to affected qualified beneficiaries regarding the COBRA Subsidy, including a notice of the upcoming expiration of their premium assistance. This expiration notice must be sent no fewer than 15 days and no more than 45 days before an individual’s COBRA Subsidy expires. The DOL has released a model “Notice of Expiration of Period of Premium Assistance” that plans may use to satisfy the notice requirement. Because the COBRA Subsidy is set to expire on September 30, 2021, the deadline to send out the expiration notices is quickly approaching. Employers are reminded to contact their third-party COBRA administrators,… Continue Reading
The IRS recently issued Notice 2021-46 (the “Notice”), which provides new guidance in the form of FAQs regarding the application of the COBRA premium assistance provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (the “COBRA Subsidy”). The Notice supplements the IRS’s prior Notice 2021-31 regarding the COBRA Subsidy and addresses additional matters. Issues addressed in the Notice include, among others, (i) the availability of the COBRA Subsidy in situations where an individual is entitled to notify the plan administrator, but has not yet done so, of his or her eligibility for an extended COBRA coverage period due to a disability determination or the occurrence of a second COBRA qualifying event, (ii) the loss of an individual’s entitlement to the COBRA Subsidy with respect to dental and vision coverage when he or she becomes eligible to enroll in other group health plan coverage or Medicare that does not provide dental… Continue Reading
As we previously reported here, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (?Ç£ARPA?Ç¥) provides a 100% COBRA premium subsidy to any qualified beneficiary who is entitled to COBRA coverage due to an involuntary termination of employment or reduction in hours of employment. Employers will receive a tax credit for the cost of COBRA premiums for April 1 to September 30, 2021. The IRS recently issued FAQs addressing many issues related to the subsidy, including: (i) subsidy eligibility, (ii) what qualifies as a reduction in hours or an involuntary termination of employment, (iii) the type of coverage eligible for the subsidy, (iv) when the subsidy period begins and ends, (v) the extended election period, (vi) coordination with the extended deadlines due to the COVID national emergency (?Ç£Outbreak Period Extensions?Ç¥), (vii) payments to insurers, (viii) application to state continuation coverage, and (ix) calculation and claiming of the subsidy tax credit. One of… Continue Reading
The DOL?áissued new model notices that may be used in connection with COBRA premium assistance requirements under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (?Ç£ARPA?Ç¥). These model notices include (i) an ARPA General Notice, (ii) a Notice in Connection with Extended Election Periods, (iii) an Alternative Notice, and (iv) a Notice of Expiration of Period of Premium Assistance. The DOL also issued a Summary of ARPA requirements, which the DOL states should be included with the ARPA General Notice, the Alternative Notice, and the Notice in Connection with Extended Election Periods. Use of the model notices is not required. The ARPA General Notice (or its equivalent) should be sent to each COBRA qualified beneficiary (?Ç£QB?Ç¥) who experiences a COBRA qualifying event from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021. The FAQs issued in conjunction with the model notices state that the ARPA General Notice must be sent only to those… Continue Reading
Beginning on April 1, 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA“) will provide a 100% COBRA premium subsidy (the ?Ç£Subsidy?Ç¥) to any qualified beneficiary who is entitled to COBRA coverage due to an involuntary termination of employment or reduction in hours of employment. Under the ARPA, the federal government will reimburse the employer, in the form of a tax credit, the cost of the premiums for up to six months, from April 1 to September 30, 2021. Specifically, the Subsidy will end on the earliest of: (i) September 30, 2021; (ii) the date the qualified beneficiary becomes eligible for other health plan coverage or Medicare; or (iii) the date the qualified beneficiary?ÇÖs COBRA coverage period ends. Further, any individual who would have been eligible for the Subsidy, had he or she previously elected, or continued, COBRA coverage, will have another opportunity to elect COBRA coverage under a special… Continue Reading
The DOL issued guidance today stating that the one-year limit on the suspension of COBRA, special enrollment, and claims deadlines during the COVID-19 outbreak period applies on an individual basis.?á This means those deadlines do not resume running as of March 1, 2021.?á Instead, each individual has up to a one-year suspension as long as the COVID-19 national emergency continues.?á As discussed in our prior blog post here, it was unclear whether those deadlines were to resume running as of March 1, 2021.?á Employers should contact their service providers to ensure they are aware of this new guidance and to issue new participant communications as needed. Notice 2021-01 is available here.
After February 28, 2021, the suspension of COBRA, special enrollment, and claims deadlines may be over. The government?ÇÖs authority for suspending these deadlines is limited by statute to a period of one year. It is unclear whether the one-year limit applies on the individual level (i.e., each person gets up to a year disregarded if the national emergency is ongoing) or applies as a limit on the outbreak period itself (i.e., deadlines for all persons would resume being counted as of March 1, 2021). The DOL/IRS have not yet issued guidance on this question. Employers may want to contact their service providers to see how they intend to administer, and communicate to participants, the end of the suspension of deadlines.