EB Flash: Broad COVID-19 Compliance Relief For Health and Retirement Plans

Employee Benefits Alert

In response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the Department of Labor (DOL)'s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) has issued a set of guidance providing broad compliance relief for Employee Retirement Income Security-covered (ERISA-covered) health and retirement plans, participants and beneficiaries. The three-part guidance, issued as a Final Rule, EBSA Notice, and Frequently Asked Questions, is generally effective throughout the "Outbreak Period" from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the announced end of the COVID-19 national emergency or as otherwise instructed by the DOL. 

Final Rule

The DOL rulemaking, issued in conjunction with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), "extends certain time frames affecting a participant's right to health care coverage, portability, and continuation of group health plan coverage under COBRA...[and] extends the time for plan participants to file or perfect benefit claims or appeals of denied claims," the DOL explains. 

The extensions operate by requiring plans to disregard the Outbreak Period when determining the applicable time frames and deadlines under the plan’s claims procedures and for special enrollment periods, and similarly providing that the Outbreak Period shall be disregarded when determining the date that COBRA election notices and notification of qualifying events must be provided and the date by which COBRA must be elected and COBRA payment must be tendered.

The DOL notes that these extensions "provide participants and beneficiaries of employee benefit plans additional time to make important health coverage and other decisions affecting their benefits during the coronavirus outbreak."

The 16-page text of the Final Rule is posted here. It will be published soon in the Federal Register.

EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01

EBSA also issued Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01, which extends the time for plan officials acting in good faith to furnish benefit statements, annual funding notices, and other notices and disclosures required by ERISA.

EBSA explains that good faith "includes use of electronic alternative means of communicating with plan participants and beneficiaries who the plan fiduciary reasonably believes have effective access to electronic means of communication, including email, text messages, and continuous access websites." The guidance also includes compliance assistance on "plan loans, participant contributions and loan payments, blackout notices, Form 5500 and Form M-1 filing relief, and other general compliance guidance on ERISA fiduciary responsibilities."

The Disaster Relief Notice is posted here

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

EBSA issued 23 FAQs largely directed at employee benefit plan participants and beneficiaries impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. The FAQs focus on the rights and responsibilities of participants under ERISA.

These FAQS are posted here.

The DOL and the IRS say they will continue to monitor the effects of the coronavirus outbreak and may provide additional relief as warranted.

A press release issued by the DOL on this guidance package is posted here.

Miller & Chevalier Coronavirus Task Force
The outbreak of COVID-19 is creating significant business and legal challenges for companies throughout the world. In response to client demand, the firm has formed an interdisciplinary task force to help businesses navigate these issues.

COVID-19 Resource Library
We also maintain a resource library of legislative responses and regulatory guidance related to COVID-19.

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