ERISA-governed insurance claims are subject to specific deadlines that claimants have to meet in order to protect their rights. Normally, the consequences of missing a deadline are draconian. For instance, appealing an ERISA claim denial even one day late can irrevocably waive the right to dispute the denial, no matter the reason for the delay.
The good news is that these deadlines have been relaxed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of Labor, the federal agency responsible for overseeing ERISA-governed employee benefit plans, has issued an order extending certain ERISA claim deadlines due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This order comes pursuant to authority granted by Congress in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (a/k/a the “CARES” Act).
DOL is extending these deadlines so that plan participants, beneficiaries, and employers have additional time to make critical coverage and other benefit decisions during the pandemic. The upshot is:
- Disability insurance claimants have additional time to submit claims and appeal denied claims. These deadlines do not run during the period from March 1, 2020, until 60 days after the federal government announces the end of the current COVID-19 national emergency. That means an appeal that would normally be due next week might not be due until 60 days after the federal government announces the end of the national pandemic emergency.
- Group health plans have additional time to comply with COBRA continuation coverage deadlines. This is critical for employees recently laid off and looking for answers about continued health insurance coverage.
- Group health plans also have extra time to determine benefit claims; and
- ERISA plans have extra time to provide disclosures and notices required by ERISA, provided the plan acts in good faith and furnishes the disclosure or notice as soon as practicable under the circumstances, including through electronic means.
The Department of Labor has FAQs for ERISA claimants and participants regarding the deadline extensions.
These extensions will help employees and plan participants effectively safeguard their rights during the pandemic.