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May 13, 2022

The President’s National Emergency

Remember the timeframe extensions that were announced early in the pandemic? They are still in effect and—importantly—they were just extended. Here is what happened:

As you will recall, in May 2020, the Departments of Labor and Treasury issued the “Joint Notification of Extensions of Certain Timeframes for Employee Benefit Plans, Participants, and Beneficiaries Affected by the COVID-19 Outbreak” (Joint Notice). The Joint Notice gave participants and beneficiaries additional time to request a HIPAA special enrollment, elect COBRA, pay COBRA premiums (initial and monthly), notify the plan of a COBRA qualifying event or determination of disability, file a claim, or file a claim appeal. This extension occurred because plans were instructed to disregard the “Outbreak Period” when calculating deadlines—and the “Outbreak Period” started as early as March 1, 2020, and runs for 60 days after the end of the President’s declared National Emergency. Importantly, in February 2021, the DOL issued supplemental guidance (“Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01”), which explained that there is an outside limit of one year on the timeframe extensions. 

It is also important to note that, although we do not hear about them much these days, the timeframe extensions are still in effect. The extensions are tied to the President’s declaration of a National Emergency. President Trump declared a National Emergency concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak (National Emergency), effective March 1, 2020. On February 24, 2021, President Biden extended the original declaration of National Emergency. Under the authority of the governing statute, that declaration would have ended on March 1, 2022, but on February 23rd President Biden extended the National Emergency again. It will now expire on March 1, 2023, unless ended earlier. Therefore, until an applicable Outbreak Period runs its course, participants and beneficiaries will continue to have additional time to elect COBRA, pay COBRA premiums, and take other actions as permitted by the Joint Notice. 

Authored by: Marilyn Monahan, Esq. Monahan Law Office. Reprinted with permission.