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IRS Provides Further Clarification Regarding COBRA Deadline Extensions

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

IRS Issues Additional Guidance Regarding COBRA Premium Subsidy

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

COBRA Premium Assistance FAQs and Model Notices Issued

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

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 ?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

IRS Clarifies Optional Flexible Spending Account and Cafeteria Plan Enhancements

In 2020, the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020 (the ?Ç£Act?Ç¥) was enacted. The Act is part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The Act provides employer sponsors of cafeteria plans, including health flexible spending accounts (?Ç£HFSAs?Ç¥) and dependent care flexible spending accounts (?Ç£DCFSAs?Ç¥) (collectively, ?Ç£FSAs?Ç¥), with helpful new options for easing the normal FSA use-it-or-lose-it and mid-year election change rules. Generally, the Act provides for (i) flexibility with respect to carryovers of unused FSA amounts from the 2020 and 2021 plan years (?Ç£Enhanced Carryover?Ç¥); (ii) extension of the permissible period for incurring FSA claims for plan years ending in 2020 and 2021 (?Ç£Enhanced Grace Period?Ç¥); (iii) a special rule regarding post-termination reimbursements from HFSAs during plan years 2020 and 2021 (?Ç£HFSA Post-Termination Option?Ç¥); (iv) a special claims period and carryover rule for DCFSAs when a dependent ?Ç£ages out?Ç¥ during the COVID-19 public health emergency; and… Continue Reading

Plan Record Retention Considerations in Corporate Transactions

As we?ÇÖve previously reported here, there are a number of record retention requirements applicable to employee benefit plans. Plan sponsors should be mindful of the impact and application of these requirements in the context of corporate mergers and acquisitions, especially if assets of the target?ÇÖs retirement plan are to be merged into the buyer?ÇÖs plan. When acquiring a company that sponsors (or has sponsored) its own retirement plan, plan sponsors should consider: Protected Benefits. Though the buyer?ÇÖs plan may be amended to protect certain benefits under the target?ÇÖs plan, as required by the Internal Revenue Code, in many cases the plan sponsor will need to refer to the target?ÇÖs actual plan document to fully understand the specifics of the protected benefits. Missing Participants. The DOL recently issued a memorandum outlining best practices for pension plans to avoid and resolve missing participant issues (we previously discussed this issue here). Included in… Continue Reading

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and Benefits Changes Employers Need to Focus on Right Now

Retirement Plans Additional Relief May Help Prevent Partial Plan Terminations The recently adopted Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (the ?Ç£CAA?Ç¥) provides relief for qualified retirement plans of employers that had to reduce their workforce as a result of the pandemic (through furloughs, layoffs, or terminations) for plan years that include the period beginning on March 13, 2020 and ending on March 31, 2021. Specifically, these plans shall not be treated as incurring a partial plan termination if the number of active participants covered by the plan on March 31, 2021 is at least 80% of the number of active participants that were covered by the plan on March 13, 2020. A partial plan termination generally occurs when more than 20% of a plan?ÇÖs participants are terminated in a plan year. If a partial plan termination occurs, then the plan is required to 100% vest any ?Ç£affected employees?Ç¥. ?Ç£Affected employees?Ç¥ are… Continue Reading

Want to Elect to Have a Safe Harbor Plan for 2021? ?Çô The Time is Now

As we previously reported here, earlier this year, the IRS provided relief to plan sponsors of safe harbor 401(k) and 403(b) plans, allowing them to amend their plans mid-year to suspend or reduce safe harbor contributions through the end of the 2020 plan year. Many employers elected to make this change in order to reduce overall costs to help them weather the COVID-19 pandemic. Plan sponsors who want to go back to a safe harbor plan design for 2021 must (i) amend their plan documents before the end of the year to include safe harbor contributions; (ii) notify their third party administrators as soon as possible so that the third party administrator is prepared to administer the plan as a safe harbor plan; and (iii) provide the required safe harbor notice to participants at least 30 days (and not more than 90 days) before the beginning of the plan year.… Continue Reading

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?ÇÖs $1.6 Million COBRA Notice Settlement Offer: Employers, It?ÇÖs 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?ÇÖ COBRA election notices; however, the employer… Continue Reading

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