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The End of the COVID-19 National Emergency Will Impact COBRA Tolling Deadlines

The Biden Administration announced that it will end both the COVID-19 National Emergency and Public Health Emergency (PHE) (collectively referred to as “the National Emergency”) on May 11, 2023. The ending of the National Emergency means that the requirement to extend various benefit plan deadlines due to the COVID-19 pandemic will end as well.

The National Emergency had an impact on COBRA requirements in which group health plans subject to ERISA were required to disregard “the Outbreak Period” (defined as the period beginning March 1, 2020, and ending 60 days after the end of the COVID-19 National Emergency, or such other end date is announced) in determining the following periods and dates:

  • The 60-day election period for COBRA continuation coverage;
  • The date for making COBRA premium payments;
  • The deadline for employers to provide individuals with notice of their COBRA continuation rights;
  • The 30-day (or in some cases 60-day) HIPAA special election period to request enrollment in a group health plan;
  • The timeframes for filing claims under the plans claim-processing procedures; and
  • The deadlines for requesting internal and external appeals for adverse benefit determinations.

The end of the National Emergency means that the tolling of COBRA deadlines will be coming to an end. Deadlines for COBRA relief have been based on the date the individual became eligible to elect COBRA which is (1) the earlier of one year from the date the individual was first eligible for the relief or (2) 60 days after the expiration of the National Emergency (July 10, 2023). As a practical example, if an individual’s 60-day COBRA election period began on August 1, 2022, the election period will no longer be tolled as of July 10, 2023, and COBRA coverage must be elected within 60 days of July 10. However, if an employee’s COBRA election period began on July 1, 2022, tolling will end on July 1, 2023 (as the maximum one-year tolling period would have been reached), the 60-day election period will begin on July 1, 2023.

The end of the National Emergency also impacts certain health benefit requirements that have been in place during the emergency period, such as coverage for COVID-19 testing and preventive services.

Next Steps for Employers

Prior to July 10, 2023, plan sponsors and administrators should begin to review and revise their health plan documents and prior communications to individuals regarding the tolling of the various plan deadlines and consider sending communications to those whose deadlines are approaching. Employers should also review their plan documents, policies and procedures to ensure that they are updated to account for the end of the National Emergency.

HR Works will continue to monitor this topic and provide updates as they become available.

HR Works, headquartered in Upstate New York, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States for over thirty years. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.