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COVID-19 Relief Issued for Employee Benefit Plans

Updated Model COBRA Notices & FAQs

On May 1, 2020 the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued new model notices for group health plan administrators to use to comply with COBRA notification requirements.

Plan administrators are not required to use the updated model notices, however, the DOL considers their use of these notices — with the addition of appropriate plan information — to be good faith compliance with COBRA’s content requirements for:

  • The general notice of coverage continuation rights, which must be provided to each employee and spouse within 90 days of coverage; and
  • The notice of a qualified beneficiary’s right to elect continued coverage, which must be provided within 14 days after receiving notice of a qualifying event.

The updated model notices aim to help qualified beneficiaries understand the interactions between Medicare and COBRA. As indicated in the models, some administrators may benefit more by enrolling in Medicare before, or instead of, electing COBRA. The models also highlight that if an individual is eligible for both COBRA and Medicare, electing COBRA coverage may impact Medicare enrollment and certain out-of-pocket costs.

To help plan participants and employers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic understand their rights and responsibilities under ERISA, the DOL laid out a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs).

For more information, click here. We encourage you to also review this Compliance Overview which details the COVID-19 relief of certain employee benefit plan deadlines.

On April 28, 2020, the Departments of Labor (DOL) and the Treasury issued deadline relief for employee benefit plans, plan participants and plan service providers directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This deadline relief begins on March 1, 2020 and will continue 60 days after the end of the COVID-19 National Emergency.

Extension of Participant Timeframes

The Departments issued a final rule, which gives health plan participants additional time to comply with certain deadlines affecting:

  • Special Enrollment Periods
  • COBRA Continuation Coverage (i.e. payment of COBRA premiums, notification of a COBRA qualifying event)
  • Filing of claims for benefits
  • Appeal of denied claims and request of external review of certain claims

The decision to issue such relief stemmed from the possibility of individuals missing these important deadlines during the COVID-19 outbreak that could result in the loss or lapse of group health coverage or the denial of a valid claim for benefits.

Deadline Extension for ERISA Notices & Disclosures

The DOL issued Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01 to extend the time for plan officials to furnish benefit statements, annual funding notices, and other notices and disclosures required under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), if done so in efforts of good faith (or as soon as administratively practicable).

This notice explains efforts of good faith include use of electronic means of communicating with plan participants, who the plan sponsor reasonably believes have effective access to electronic means of communication (i.e. email, text messages and continuous access to websites).

The DOL also issued Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to help plan participants and employers impacted by COVID-19 understand their rights, responsibilities and compliance expectations under ERISA.

To learn more, click here.

For any questions regarding this information, reach out to the Creative Benefits Team at solutions@creativebenefitsinc.com or 866-306-0200.