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Have You Notified Participants of Extended Deadlines?

As noted in our prior post here, the U.S. Departments of Labor and Treasury recently issued a notice requiring all employee health and welfare benefit plans to disregard the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency (or other announced date) when determining the deadline to request HIPAA special enrollment, elect COBRA coverage, make a COBRA premium payment, notify the plan of a COBRA qualifying event or determination of a disability, file a benefit claim or appeal, or request an external review of a benefit claim denial. Although the notice did not address whether plan participants needed to be notified of these extended deadlines, plan administrators should be aware that they likely have a fiduciary duty to accurately convey this information to participants. For example, a COBRA election notice that states a deadline to elect or make premium payments without mentioning… Continue Reading

Employers Take Note of Suspended COBRA Deadlines due to COVID-19

The U.S. Departments of Labor and the Treasury recently issued a joint notice promulgating final rules that take effect immediately upon publication in the Federal Register (the “Notice”). The Notice suspends a number of deadlines for employer-sponsored, group health plans, including deadlines under COBRA. The extension period is from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the federal government announces the end of the COVID-19 national emergency or other date announced by the DOL (the “Outbreak Period”). The Outbreak Period is disregarded in determining whether the following COBRA deadlines have been met: (i) the date by which an individual must notify the plan of a COBRA qualifying event or disability determination, (ii) the 60-day period to elect COBRA coverage, and (iii) the deadline to make COBRA premium payments. Group health plans were also offered relief via the suspension of the deadline for providing COBRA election notices to COBRA qualified beneficiaries.… Continue Reading

Extension of Certain Timeframes for Employee Benefit Plans

On April 29, 2020, the U.S. Departments of Labor and the Treasury (together, the “Departments”) issued a notice (the “Notice”) requiring that all group health plans, disability and other types of employee welfare benefit plans, and employee pension benefit plans, subject to ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code, must disregard the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency or such other date as announced by the Departments in a future notice (the “Outbreak Period”) for the following periods and dates: The 30-day period (or 60-day period, if applicable) to request HIPAA special enrollment; The 60-day election period for COBRA continuation coverage; The date for making COBRA premium payments; The date for individuals to notify the plan of a COBRA qualifying event or determination of disability; The date within which individuals may file a benefit claim under the plan’s claims procedures;… Continue Reading

The DOL and the IRS Jointly Provide Relief from Certain Timeframes Applicable to Health and Welfare and Pension Plans

On April 28, 2020, the IRS and DOL issued a Final Rule extending certain timeframes under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code for group health, disability and other welfare plans, pension plans, and the participants and beneficiaries under those plans. The timeframe extensions include, among other things, the time to elect COBRA and pay premiums, special enrollment timeframes under HIPPA and CHIPs, claims procedure timeframes, and certain external review process timeframes.  Applicable plans must disregard the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency for all plan participants, beneficiaries, qualified beneficiaries, or claimants wherever located in determining the enumerated time periods and dates and for providing COBRA election notices.  In addition, Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01 was issued addressing the timeframe relief and addressing certain other COVID-19 relief. The Final Rule is available here: https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ebsa/temporary-postings/covid-19-final-rule.pdf. Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01 is available here: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ebsa/employers-and-advisers/plan-administration-and-compliance/disaster-relief/ebsa-disaster-relief-notice-2020-01.

COVID-19 EMPLOYEE BENEFIT AND EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

In light of the recent economic developments stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers are evaluating their employee benefit plans and how employee and employer costs will be impacted. The following summary provides a list of questions we have been receiving from clients over the past week, along with action items to help employers address these issues. Health and Welfare Plans and Fringe Benefits Should benefits coverage continue while an employee is on an unpaid furlough? If so, how would the employee pay the employee’s portion of the premium? Could the employee elect to drop coverage due to the reduction in hours of active service? Could the employer pay for coverage for some or all of its furloughed employees? Continued eligibility for benefits will depend on whether the employer treats the furlough as a termination of employment or as an unpaid leave of absence. The terms of the plan, including… Continue Reading

In Sixth Circuit, a Change in Contribution Payment Methods under a Group Health Plan is not a Loss of Coverage under COBRA

In Morehouse v. Steak N Shake, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (the “Sixth Circuit” or “Circuit Court”) reversed a federal district court’s prior holding that a change in contribution payment methods under a group health plan constitutes a loss of coverage under COBRA. The plaintiff was a participant in Steak N Shake’s (“SNS”) group health plan when she sustained a work-related injury. Due to her injury, she took a leave of absence (and thus incurred a reduction in her work hours) and began receiving workers’ compensation benefits. Because the participant was not receiving her usual salary from SNS, SNS instead deducted her contributions toward her plan coverage from her workers’ compensation checks. When the participant’s workers’ compensation payments terminated, SNS informed her that she must continue to pay her required plan contributions out-of-pocket in order to continue her coverage under the plan. When she did not… Continue Reading

Class Action Case Certified for Failure to Provide COBRA Election Notices in Spanish

A U.S. District Court in the 11th Circuit certified as a class action a case in which the plaintiff argued that her former employer, the Marriott International hotel chain, violated federal law by failing to: (1) provide a COBRA notice in Spanish; (2) adequately explain the procedures to elect healthcare coverage; (3) identify itself as the plan administrator; and (4) provide a notice that an average plan participant would understand. There are over 15,000 potential class members who received the allegedly deficient COBRA notice. Employers subject to COBRA are required to offer employees the option to continue their group health plan coverage after employment termination (among other COBRA qualifying events). These notices need to comply with language and other requirements. Employers that fail to comply with COBRA may face penalties of up to $110 per day for each individual who is sent a defective notice. Vazquez v. Marriott Int’l, Inc.,… Continue Reading

Additional Relief for Benefit Plans Due to Hurricane Harvey

The IRS and DOL have announced additional relief for benefit plans affected by Hurricane Harvey. This relief applies to participants, beneficiaries, and plans whose plan administration and/or recordkeeping functions reside within the disaster area. This relief includes the following: The filing date for Form 5500 filings due on or after August 23, 2017 and before January 31, 2018 is automatically extended to January 31, 2018. The DOL will provide relief for certain plan loan and distribution verification procedures to be described in later guidance, provide enforcement relief for delays in forwarding participant contributions, and provide relief for failures to timely provide blackout notices for temporary plan restrictions caused by Harvey. The DOL requests welfare plans make reasonable accommodations for participants and beneficiaries who are unable to timely file benefit claims or make COBRA elections for the purposes of preserving coverage and providing benefits. The request for accommodation should also include… Continue Reading

Federal Marketplace Special Enrollment Period Offered for COBRA Qualified Beneficiaries

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently announced the availability of a special enrollment period, beginning May 2, 2014 and extending through July 1, 2014 (the “COBRA SEP”), during which individuals who currently have employer-sponsored COBRA continuation coverage may drop it and enroll in coverage from a Federally-facilitated health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act.  According to HHS, this special enrollment period is being provided in response to HHS’ concerns that COBRA-eligible individuals may not have received sufficient information, through COBRA notices or otherwise, explaining the options and limited enrollment timeframes they have for obtaining coverage through the federal marketplaces. Notably, the COBRA SEP applies only to a federal marketplace (although HHS has encouraged the state-based marketplaces to adopt similar special enrollment periods). As related to this issue, the U.S. Department of Labor issued new model COBRA notices that include more detailed information about enrollment rights in the… Continue Reading

DOL Releases New COBRA Model Notices

On May 2, 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor (the “DOL”) issued proposed regulations amending the notice requirements for the group health plan continuation coverage provisions of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (“COBRA”). Simultaneously, the DOL released new model notices that sponsors of group health plans may use to comply with the COBRA notice requirements. Both the updated general notice and updated election notice explain that coverage is now available in the Health Insurance Marketplace (the “Marketplace”), and the new election notice includes information about special enrollment rights in the Marketplace. Until final rulemaking is completed, use of the model notices on the DOL’s website will constitute good faith compliance with the notice content requirements of COBRA. A copy of the proposed regulations is available here. The model notices are available here.

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