Labor & Employment E-lert: The DOL, IRS, and U.S. Department of the Treasury Issue Joint Rule Extending COBRA and HIPAA Deadlines

By: Gregory A. Hearing and Matthew A. Bowles

The GrayRobinson labor & employment practice group is committed to providing you with the best information available on the ever-changing events surrounding COVID-19 and its impact on Florida’s employers. As these issues are multi-faceted and fact-specific, we encourage you to reach out to us with any questions to help you navigate these difficult issues.

The Joint Rule

Recognizing the vast disruption the current COVID-19 pandemic has caused within the U.S. workforce, the DOL, IRS, and U.S. Treasury implemented the new Joint Rule in an effort to ease the transition process for recently terminated employees and ensure that such employees do not encounter any issues in exercising their benefit rights in light of any complications arising from the ongoing National Emergency.

To this end, the Joint Rule suspends special enrollment and COBRA timeframes, as well as certain claims and review timeframes. Specifically, certain timeframes do not commence during “the period from March 1, 2020 until sixty (60) days after the announced end of the National Emergency or such other date announced by the Agencies in a future notification (the ‘Outbreak Period’).” The timeframes and dates suspended during the Outbreak Period include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • The 30-day period to request special enrollment in a health plan;
  • The 60-day election period for COBRA continuation coverage;
  • The date for making COBRA premium payments;
  • The date for individuals to notify the plan of a qualifying event or determination of disability;
  • The date within which individuals may file a benefit claim under the plan’s claims procedure;
  • The date within which claimants may file an appeal of an adverse benefit determination under the plan’s claims procedure;
  • The date within which claimants may file a request for an external review after receipt of an adverse benefit determination or final internal adverse determination; and
  • The date within which a claimant may file information to perfect a request for external review upon a finding that the request was not complete.

The Joint Rule additionally provides that “[w]ith respect to group health plans, and their sponsors and administrators, the Outbreak Period shall be disregarded when determining the date for providing a COBRA election notice under ERISA section 606(c) and Code section 4980B(f)(6)(D).”

For further information regarding the Joint Rule and the DOL’s efforts at providing disaster relief for employee plan participants, beneficiaries, plan sponsors, plan administrators, and employers, the DOL has issued a COVID-19 FAQs for Participants and Beneficiaries as well as EBSA Disaster Relief Notice 2020-01.