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Earlier this week, the Departments of Labor and Treasury released an emergency final regulation regarding the COBRA-election period during the dates of the COVID-19 national emergency. The emergency rule took effect immediately and can be applied retroactively to March 1, 2020. The emergency rule allows more flexibility for:
  • Initial COBRA election period
  • Deadline for premium payments
  • Timeline for employers to provide COBRA election notices.
The changes in these timelines will be in effect until the Administration declares the end of the COVID-19 national emergency.
Election Period
The emergency rule changes the COBRA-election period by allowing a person who has an election period ending between March 1 and the end of the national emergency an additional 60 days after the end of the national emergency to choose COBRA-continuation coverage. Traditionally, enrollees have 60 days to elect COBRA, but this will allow much more time for the decision to be made during the pandemic.
Deadline for Premium Payments
The emergency rule allows for flexibility of the COBRA-payment deadline. A carrier or employer cannot terminate coverage for a late or delinquent payment during the COVID-19 national emergency. This change applies not only to those newly eligible for COBRA but also to those that may have elected COBRA before March 1 and have not yet made their March payment. The timing of this rule may affect some beneficiaries that missed their March payment and have been terminated; in that case, the carrier and employer must reinstate the beneficiary.
Those beneficiaries who missed payments during the COVID-19 national emergency will have 30 days to make all outstanding payments once the Administration declares that the national emergency is over. If beneficiaries cannot make all of the back-due payments within the 30-day timeframe, their coverage may be retroactively limited to the months they were able to pay for.
Election Notices
The emergency regulation allows employers an extension until after the end of the national emergency to deliver COBRA-election notices. Although this seems to benefit the employer during a time in which compliance may be a burden, it is unclear how this extension to provide election notices aligns with how beneficiaries will be informed of the changes the emergency rule made for their election period and premium payments if the election notice from their employer is also delayed.
In addition to the COBRA deadlines, the regulation extends the regular timeframes for group health plan participants to:
  • Request a special enrollment period under ERISA
  • Notify the plan about a qualifying event or determination of a disability
  • File a benefit claim
  • File an appeal of an adverse claim determination
  • File or amend an external review.
The standard timeframes for these actions will not start until after the Administration declares the end of the national emergency, or another date that may be announced by the Administration in the future.
In addition to the COBRA emergency rule, today the DOL released FAQs and guidance on model notices, which can be found here. We will have more information on these in the next edition of the Washington Update.
For more information contact Sue Justice at Emery Benefit Solutions. sue@emerybenefitsolutions.com