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2019 FSA Claims Submission Deadlines Suspended

Many employer-sponsored flexible spending arrangements (“FSAs”) have a claims submission deadline in March 2020 for the 2019 plan year. Some FSA vendors have contacted employers about extending those claims submission deadlines to later in the summer because participants could be delayed in submitting claims due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Generally, claims submission deadlines are set by plan design and are not regulated. However, the U.S. Departments of Labor and Treasury recently issued a notice suspending the deadline for submitting claims under all employee welfare benefit plans and employee pension benefit plans. The time period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the end of the national emergency or other date announced by the government (“Outbreak Period”) is disregarded in determining whether the deadline to submit a claim was met. The notice did not specifically address how the suspended deadlines are supposed to work for FSAs. Arguably, if the deadline… 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

You’ve Got (“Snail”) Mail

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that most offices are closed, with employees largely working remotely, it may be easy to imagine that the whole world functions online. This is not true. Many governmental agencies, including the IRS and DOL, continue to rely heavily, if not nearly exclusively, on the United States Postal Service for delivering plan-related communications. For this reason, it is important that someone within your organization continues to check your “snail” mail during this time of pandemic, particularly if you have a plan that is subject to an ongoing audit or investigation or a pending determination letter or Voluntary Correction Program application. The IRS and DOL frequently request additional information in these contexts, providing a limited time period (normally, fourteen days) to respond. While the agencies are typically generous in granting extensions to respond, such extensions must be requested.

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.

Defined Benefit Plan Annual Funding Notices Have Not Been Delayed

Although the CARES Act permitted the DOL to delay the deadline for distributing defined benefit plan Annual Funding Notices (“AFNs“), the DOL has not done so. For calendar year plans, that deadline is April 29, 2020 (because 2020 is a leap year). While AFNs generally can be distributed electronically, if there are participants or beneficiaries (including alternate payees) for whom electronic distribution is not possible, those AFNs must be mailed and postmarked no later than April 29.

Spousal Consent Under a Retirement Plan During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Generally, a spouse must consent to a retirement plan participant’s waiver of a qualified joint and survivor annuity or the designation of an optional form of benefit or an alternate beneficiary. The applicable regulations require this consent, even if signed electronically, to be witnessed in the physical presence of a plan representative or a notary public. Neither the IRS nor the DOL has issued guidance permitting the physical presence requirement to be satisfied by electronic means (for example, via webcam) even though numerous states now permit electronic notarizations. Employers should use care and consult with legal counsel when determining how to handle participants who are unable to satisfy the plan’s current physical presence notarization requirements.

Agencies Update Group Health Plan Required Disclosure Documents

Federal agencies recently issued updated versions of certain documents that are required to be disclosed to individuals under applicable employer-sponsored group health plans. A set of FAQs regarding the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) was issued by the federal Departments of Labor (“DOL”), Health and Human Services (“HHS”), and Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”), which describe recent changes made by the Departments to the “summary of benefits and coverage” template under the ACA (“SBC”). Among other minor changes to the SBC, certain verbiage on the SBC and the associated uniform glossary were revised to reflect the prior elimination, as of January 1, 2019, of the tax penalty related to an individual’s failure to comply with the so-called “individual mandate” under the ACA. The FAQs also provide additional guidance regarding the updated SBC coverage examples calculator that was released by HHS late last year. The revised SBC and SBC coverage examples calculator each… Continue Reading

DOL Issues Proposed Regulations for Electronic Delivery of ERISA-Required Retirement Plan Disclosures

The DOL recently issued proposed regulations which provide a “Notice-and-Access” safe harbor for the electronic delivery of ERISA-required disclosures. Under the proposed regulations, plan administrators can fulfill their obligation to provide these disclosures by making the information accessible online and by sending a notice of Internet availability (“Internet Availability Notice”) of the disclosures to participants’ e-mail addresses. The Internet Availability Notice must include a brief description of the document being posted online, a website address where the document is posted, and instructions for requesting a free paper copy of the disclosures or electing paper delivery of such disclosures in the future. Although the Internet Availability Notice must generally be sent each time a disclosure is posted online, the proposed regulations would allow a plan administrator to combine such notices in certain circumstances. The proposed regulations only apply to retirement plans, not health and welfare plans, and a plan administrator must… Continue Reading

DOL Publishes FAQs on Employer Retirement Plan Obligations to Reemployed Service Members Under USERRA

The DOL recently published a series of frequently asked questions (“FAQs”) on its website that provide general guidance to employers on their retirement plan obligations to reemployed service members under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (“USERRA”). Among other things, the FAQs address (i) what military service must be credited for purposes of determining retirement benefits, (ii) an employer’s obligation to make retirement plan contributions while an employee is on a qualifying military leave of absence, and (iii) an employee’s right to make up missed contributions when he or she is reemployed following a qualifying military leave of absence. The FAQs are available here.

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