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COBRA Premium Assistance FAQs and Model Notices Issued

The DOL issued new model notices that may be used in connection with COBRA premium assistance requirements under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”). 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 (“QB”) 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

Upcoming Compliance Deadline

Beginning April 1, 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 will provide a 100% COBRA premium subsidy (the “Subsidy”) to any qualified beneficiary who is entitled to COBRA coverage due to an involuntary termination of employment or a reduction in hours of employment. For more information on the Subsidy, please see our prior blog post here.

New Required COBRA Premium Subsidy

Beginning on April 1, 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA“) will provide a 100% COBRA premium subsidy (the “Subsidy”) 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’s 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

BREAKING: One-Year Limit on Suspended COBRA and Other Deadlines Applies On An Individual Basis

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.  This means those deadlines do not resume running as of March 1, 2021.  Instead, each individual has up to a one-year suspension as long as the COVID-19 national emergency continues.  As discussed in our prior blog post here, it was unclear whether those deadlines were to resume running as of March 1, 2021.  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.

Upcoming Compliance Deadlines

After February 28, 2021, the suspension of COBRA, special enrollment, and claims deadlines may be over. The government’s 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.

DOL Clarifies Position Regarding COBRA Notice Requirement

As we discussed in our prior blog post here, there has been a recent significant increase in class action litigation challenging the sufficiency of COBRA election notices. These cases typically allege that a deficient or misleading COBRA notice caused a former employee (or other COBRA qualified beneficiary) to lose group health plan coverage because the notice lacked certain required information or was not written in an understandable manner. One claim that is often raised in these cases is that the COBRA notice fails to provide the name, address, and telephone number of the plan administrator. However, the DOL recently clarified its position on this matter in an amicus brief filed in Carter v. Southwest Airlines Co. Board of Trustees, which is a proposed COBRA class action lawsuit. In its brief, the DOL stated that a COBRA election notice is not required to contain contact information for the plan administrator if… Continue Reading

Target’s $1.6 Million COBRA Notice Settlement Offer: Employers, It’s Time to Review Your COBRA Election Notices

As we discussed in our prior blog post here, there are many reasons why an employer needs to review its template COBRA election notice, such as for the new extended COBRA deadlines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the new DOL model notice, and dramatically increased class action litigation challenging the legal sufficiency of COBRA election notices. These cases have resulted in significant expenditures being incurred by the targeted employers. These cases typically allege that a deficient or misleading COBRA notice caused a former employee (or other COBRA qualified beneficiary) to lose health coverage because the notice lacked required information or was not written in an understandable manner. For example, plaintiffs recently proposed a $1.6 million class action settlement to resolve allegations that Target Corporation failed to provide adequate COBRA election notices. Many employers use third-party vendors to prepare and distribute their plans’ COBRA election notices; however, the employer… Continue Reading

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

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