Benefit Implications of the End of the COVID-19 Outbreak Period
The COVID-19 Outbreak Period was declared effective on March 1, 2020. It had numerous impacts upon employee benefit plans, extending timelines with which plan participants and plan sponsors/employers had to perform certain benefit-related activities. On January 30, 2023, President Biden declared he would end the National Emergency effective May 11, 2023.
To recap, the declaration of the Outbreak Period impacted benefit plans in many ways by instructing ERISA plans and participants to disregard the Outbreak Period for:
- 30-day timeframe for a participant to elect HIPAA special enrollment;
- 60-day timeframe for a participant to elect CHIPRA special enrollment;
- 60-day timeframe for a participant to elect COBRA continuation coverage;
- Timeframe for a participant or Qualified Beneficiary to notify a plan of a qualifying event or disability determination;
- Timeframe for the plan to provide a COBRA election notice;
- Timeframe for a participant to timely pay COBRA premiums; and
- Timeframe for a participant to file claims, appeals, and requests for external review.
However, it is important to note that ERISA contains language limiting timeline extensions to no more than one year. Thus for example, the normal 60-day timeframe for a an eligible Qualified Beneficiary to elect COBRA continuation coverage was extended by the Outbreak Period to one year plus 60 days.
With the declaration of the end of the National Emergency on May 11, 2023, the 60-day clock to end the Outbreak Period will start. This means that effective on July 10, 2023 (60 days after the end of the National Emergency) all of the pre-pandemic rules impacting the above items (and others) will go back to their normal timeframes.
Employers will want to plan now for this end to the COVID-19 Outbreak Period.