On February 18, 2022, President Biden formally extended the COVID-19 National Emergency for up to another year. The National Emergency first went into effect on March 1, 2020, and after being first extended in February 2021, was set to expire on March 1, 2022.
Note: The National Emergency is different than the Public Health Emergency (PHE). The PHE period affects other COVID-related requirements not discussed here. The PHE is still in effect and renews every 90 days.
After a National Emergency was declared as of March 1, 2020, regulatory agencies jointly issued a final rule in April extending several specific notice and disclosure deadlines applicable under HIPAA, COBRA, and ERISA.
The rule effectively extended the time participants were given for things like COBRA elections, COBRA payments, HIPAA special enrollments, and ERISA claims filing and appeals. In addition to the final rule, the DOL issued Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01, granting some leniency regarding enforcement of the timing and delivery method for plan sponsor disclosures required under ERISA.
The rules apply broadly to all employer-sponsored benefits subject to ERISA and COBRA. The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) indicated that similar relief was available to non-federal governmental plans as well.
For the period of time beginning March 1, 2020, until 60 days after the National Emergency is over (the “Outbreak Period”), all group health plans, disability plans, other employee welfare benefit plans, and employee pension plans must disregard this time period when administering plans with respect to notices, disclosures and other deadlines covered by the rule.
This most recent extension of the National Emergency further extends the duration of the Outbreak Period. It is possible that President Biden will end the National Emergency before another year passes, but this remains to be seen.
Plan sponsors should be aware that the extended deadlines for participants under HIPAA, COBRA, and ERISA remain in effect for the time being and ensure that their plans continue to operate in accordance with the requirements for any deadlines.
Written by: Michelle Cammayo
IMA will continue to monitor regulator guidance and offer meaningful, practical, timely information.
This material should not be considered as a substitute for legal, tax and/or actuarial advice. Contact the appropriate professional counsel for such matters. These materials are not exhaustive and are subject to possible changes in applicable laws, rules, and regulations and their interpretations.