As mentioned in our prior post, numerous benefit plan-related deadlines were extended by the DOL when it declared a National Emergency due to COVID-19 in March, 2020. By law, the National Emergency continues until: (1) emergency is not continued by the president; (2) the president terminates it; or (3) a joint resolution of Congress terminates it. The National Emergency was most recently continued by the President on March 1, 2022, which means, absent a further continuation or early termination, the National Emergency will end on February 28.
As a reminder, the following deadlines were extended by the declarations:
- Extension of the deadline to file, appeal or request external review of a claim.
- Extension of the COBRA election period, COBRA payment due date, and COBRA deadlines to notify the plan of a qualifying event or new disability.
- Extension of the 30-day or 60-day window to submit a HIPAA special enrollment request.
The above extensions will end 60 days after the end of the National Emergency or after any individual person has been eligible for any specific relief for a period of one year. Plan Sponsors and administrators will need to ensure these deadline extensions are followed for all participants and former participants. In addition, COBRA eligible individuals will need to be tracked to make sure the one-year deadline is followed.
In addition to the president’s declaration of a National Emergency, the Secretary of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) also declared a Public Health Emergency in January, 2020. A Public Health Emergency may only exist in 90 day increments before it must be extended. The current Public Health Emergency was extended by the HHS on July 15, 2022. This means, absent a further extension, the Public Health Emergency will expire in mid-October 2022. However, HHS has announced it will provide at least 60 days’ advance notice of the end of the Public Health Emergency in order for plan sponsors to prepare.
As required by the Public Health Emergency, plans: (i) must cover COVID-19 diagnostic testing and related services at no cost to the participants; (ii) must cover COVID-19 vaccines and boosters (including from out-of-network providers) at no cost to participants; and (ii) may offer stand-alone telehealth benefits to participants who are not enrolled or eligible for the corresponding health plan.
When these emergencies do finally end, plan sponsors should be prepared to send communications to participants about the end of the extensions and review their plan documents to account for any changes after the end of the period. These deadlines, and the accompanying plan requirements, can be confusing.