On March 13, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the Proclamation declaring the National Emergency effective March 1, 2020. In Spring 2020 and 2021, the Department of Labor (“DOL”), the Department of Treasury (“Treasury”), and the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) published guidance extending certain timeframes under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code for employee benefit plans, including long- and short-term disability, as well as participants and beneficiaries of these plans. This guidance included:
The guidance suspended (1) the date for an individual to file a benefit claim under an ERISA-governed plan, and (2) the date for a claimant to file an appeal of an adverse benefit determination, directing plans to disregard the “Outbreak Period,” defined as March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the announced end of the National Emergency (or other date indicated by an appropriate federal agency). Per ERISA section 518, as amended by section 3607 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the maximum amount of time that can be disregarded from such timeframes is one year.
Earlier this year, the Biden Administration announced the National Emergency would end on May 11, 2023. On March 29, 2023, the DOL, Treasury and Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) issued an FAQ clarifying how certain actions or elections would work before and after the Outbreak Period ended, confirming that July 10, 2023 (60 days after May 11), is the end of the Outbreak period and that a group health plan may allow for longer timeframes for employees, participants, or beneficiaries to complete these actions.
Recently, President Biden signed into law a joint congressional resolution H.J. Res. 7 (Public Law No. 118-3 04/10/2023) terminating the National Emergency as of April 10, almost a month earlier than the Administration’s previously announced date of May 11, 2023. Following the President’s signature on this resolution, various sources have reported informal guidance from DOL representatives indicating that the Departments will still recognize July 10, 2023, as the end of the Outbreak Period. We don’t know whether or not the agencies will provide formal guidance confirming these statements. We will continue to monitor guidance from the agencies and provide further updates as needed.