The DOL previously exercised authority reserved to it under ERISA section 518 (29 U.S.C. § 1148) and Code section 7508A(b) (26 U.S.C. § 7508A(b)) generally providing that, in the case of a Presidentially declared disaster, a period of up to one year may be disregarded in determining the date by which any action is required or permitted to be completed with respect to employee benefit plans. Most notably, this action extended the timeframes for COBRA notices, elections and premium payment.

That guidance was initially effective on March 1, 2020, making many believe it would expire by March 1, 2021. However, on Friday, the DOL indicated that the original guidance would continue for as long as the COVID-19 national emergency continues. However, for each participant, the time period is to be disregarded in calculating the applicable, relevant deadline, which effectively limits the extension to not more than one year.

Thus, it is welcome news to many that the benefit plan deadline extension - including for COBRA elections and payment - won't sunset on March 1, 2021. However, considering deadlines on a person-by-person basis is an administrative complexity not likely to be warmly received by COBRA administrators.