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FAQ: Which mid-year election change requests are still impacted by the extension of certain timeframes?

November 09, 2021

Mid-year election change requests due to the exercise of HIPAA special enrollment rights (SERs) remain subject to the temporary relief provided by the extension of certain timeframes. Accordingly, certain requests that are made after the plan’s notification deadline may still need to be administered.

Generally, under IRC Section 125, elections are irrevocable for the plan year and once a participant makes an election, the participant generally may not change that election for the duration of the coverage period (usually the plan year) until the following open enrollment. There are two exceptions to this rule – HIPAA SERs, (which arise due to birth, adoption/placement for adoption, marriage, loss of eligibility for other group coverage, loss of Medicaid or CHIP and gain of eligibility for Medicaid or CHIP premium assistance program), and IRS permissible qualifying events.

 In 2020, the DOL published temporary guidance allowing an extension of certain notice requirements due to the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis, including an extension for HIPAA SERs. While generally, a HIPAA SER should be administered within plan deadlines (with HIPAA requiring a minimum of 30-days to make the enrollment request, and 60-days in the event of loss of eligibility under Medicaid or CHIP), this guidance requires that plans toll these deadlines until the earlier of one year from the date the individual is eligible for relief or 60 days following the declared end of the COVID-19 national emergency. However, only HIPAA SER requests are subject to the extension of certain timeframes; the permissible qualifying events are not. (For further information on the extensions, see our March 2, 2021, Compliance Corner article.)

This means that enrollment requests due to a HIPAA SER should be considered even if they are made after the timeline permitted by the plan is over. For example, an employee has a baby on 8/20/2021. The birth of a child gives rise to a HIPAA SER, and the plan normally allows 30 days from the date of birth for the employee to request mid-year enrollment. However, the 30-day deadline does not begin until the earlier of the 60 days after the end of the national emergency or 8/19/2022.

Keep in mind that HIPAA SERs are only enrollment requests. An election change request to drop coverage due to marriage would not involve a HIPAA SER, but rather an IRS permissible qualifying event that is not subject to the extension of certain timeframes.

Lastly, while the HIPAA special enrollment period allows retroactive enrollment for births (and adoption/placement for adoption), for all other special enrollment events (e.g., marriage) it only requires plans to make the enrollment effective no later than the first day of the first calendar month following notification of the event. As such, while the request may be made after the timeline permitted by the plan, it generally will be administered prospectively (other than due to birth/adoption/placement for adoption). However, if the plan document permits enrollment as of the date of the event (rather than first of the month following notification of the event), employers should discuss with counsel how the application of the extension of time would apply to the plan’s provisions. Also keep in mind that the extension of certain timeframes would not require an employee to elect and pay coverage for the baby back to the date of birth, but could be elected prospectively.

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