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COBRA & ERISA Extensions During COVID-19

I hope that you, your families, friends and co-workers are all safe and well. By now I’m sure you are overwhelmed with information about Coronavirus but hope you will find this information helpful. The FFCRA and CARES Acts include items to assist Americans and Companies to survive this pandemic. We strive to continue to keep you up to date as more information and clarification is received. In our efforts to simplify the complex world of employee benefits, several important items should be brought to attention. The Department of Labor (DOL) has issued guidance about COBRA and ERISA that affect notices and acceptance of coverage that may affect you and your employees.

The DOL realizes that during this outbreak, communication can be difficult both for you and your employees. ERISA and COBRA laws have strict deadlines with penalties attached if Employers and Americans don’t meet deadlines. The DOL requested Employers, Plan Administrators and Carriers to “make reasonable accommodations” to prevent loss of benefits, or payment of claims because of a failure to comply with pre-established timeframes. Any decision surrounding benefits termination, eligibility of COBRA, or payment of claims due to timeframe constraints should be carefully handled.

Provided is a partial list of changes and requirements:

Extension of COBRA acceptance

Typically, an employee has 60 days to elect COBRA coverage, and an additional 30 days to make their first payment. Under the extension of deadlines for COBRA employees will have 60 days after the end of the COVID-19 National Emergency to accept COBRA referred to as theOutbreak Period”. This means that employees will have additional time to accept and pay for COBRA. Carriers will be required to accept enrollment for COBRA until that time. It is not yet known when payments will be required, but it is possible that COBRA participants may have to come up with several months’ payments at the same time after election. This extension also applies to Special Enrollment Periods or “Life Event” elections that may occur (i.e. electing spousal coverage after a loss of job) and extending run out period for FSA and HRA plans.

Here are a few things employers need to be aware of:

  • COBRA Notice change of language: At this point there hasn’t been a requirement to change the language or re-distribute letters that have already gone out. If a participant needs more time to elect and pay, then can contact ACCRUE CMS at There is sample language available if you would like to distribute.

  • Communication with Carriers: It is possible that all carrier systems are not all prepared to accommodate or adapt the recent changes. To ensure resolution please inform of any issues which we will reach out to the carrier and rectify.

  • State Continuation “Mini-COBRA”: Currently we have not received direction or guidance that the same extension applies for Employers with less than 20 employees. Until have further has been issued, please have participants contact us to negotiate with carriers on a case by case basis as needed.

Extension of ERISA Document Disclosure Deadlines

As you are aware employers are required to distribute required documents for the current benefit offerings, at different points during the plan year. The DOL has announced an extension of

deadlines to furnish notices, disclosures and other ERISA documents. The extension begins March 1, 2020 through the Outbreak Period. If you are “Acting in good Faith” and furnish the document as soon as practicable there will be no violation of ERISA.

Plan Modifications -Distribution of Summary of Material Modifications (SMM)

It is possible that employers will need to make plan modifications during the COVID-19 pandemic, and carriers are allowing reasonable changes. Please let us know right away if you have an issue come up or need to modify your coverage. Additionally, under the new laws for COVID-19, coverage for testing, treatment and telemedicine have been modified by all carriers. Under ERISA, if you change your plan mid-year, employers are required to distribute a Summary of Material Modification (SMM) if the content of the Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) document previously distributed during open enrollment has been changed.

As mentioned above the deadline to distribute the documents have been extended, but an SMM or other communications to your employees about this change should be distributed when possible. There are several methods you can distribute including electronically when needed. Generally, carriers will have documents for you to distribute, but no carrier has released them to this point.

5500 Filing deadline relief

Form 5500 Annual Filings are required annually if you have more than 100 participants on your Benefit Plan, and for all retirement, 401(k), etc. Under IRS Sec. 7508 filing extensions have been granted due to a presidentially declared disaster.

As additional information becomes available, we will let you know. Please contact your Fringe Team Member if you have an issues or questions that arise. Also, please refer to our resource center that is updated regularly with information at

Man is affected, not by event, but by the view he takes of them. Epictetus


Robin Sellers


Fringe Benefit Analysts

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