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The Federal Government has recently issued a whole host of COVID-19 guidance relating to participant elections for employee benefit plans. The guidance includes the following:

COBRA and Other Participant Deadlines “Pause”

In order to minimize the chance that participants lose benefits coverage because they miss the usual deadlines during the COVID-19 National Emergency, the Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service require that plans ignore the COVID-19 “Outbreak Period” to determine if a participant has missed a deadline for the following:

  • HIPAA Special Enrollment Rights
  • COBRA elections and premium payments
  • Notice to employer of COBRA qualifying event or disability
  • Claims procedures

The “Outbreak Period” is defined as beginning March 1, 2020 and ending 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 National Emergency. For example, if the COVID-19 National Emergency ends on July 31, the Outbreak Period will end on September 29, 2020. This will significantly extend the time participants have to act and employers should make sure that their representatives who are responsible for handling benefits are aware of these new deadlines. See the specific guidance: HERE .

In addition, the DOL issued new Model COBRA forms and they can be found: HERE

Mid-Year Election Changes – Medical Plan Coverage, Health Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) and Dependent Care FSAs

New IRS guidance permits employees to make changes to their Medical Plan, Health FSA and Dependent Care elections due to COVID-19. Unlike the time extensions described above, these are not mandatory changes and an employer is not required to implement them. If an employer does adopt any new changes, employees can change their coverage prospectively only. Employees can also increase or decrease the amounts they are contributing to a Health FSA or a Dependent Care FSA. However, as of now, any amounts already contributed to a Health FSA or Dependent Care FSA have to stay in the accounts. See the IRS guidance: HERE

If you have any questions relating to this eAlert, or any other COVID-19 issue, please contact NFC’s COVID-19 Response Team as we are closely monitoring the rapidly changing legal landscape relating to this global pandemic. Please feel free to reach out to the NFC Attorney you typically work with or call us directly.


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