All posts by Dave Johnston

About Dave Johnston

Dave Johnston is a Senior Consultant at Smith. Contact the author directly

Get Out of ERISA Jail

Four questions to ask your clients about their plans.

If you’re a benefit communicator, you can keep your clients out of ERISA jail (metaphorical only) by helping them keep their plans⏤and required disclosures⏤up to date by asking these four questions. 

Will your plans cover COVID treatment and vaccines at 100% after July 10, when the emergency period ends?

Benefits for COVID treatment may be covered the same as any other illness after this date, but the federal government encourages plan sponsors to keep the 100% benefit in place. The 100% benefit for COVID vaccinations is required separately by the CARES Act. Plans that want to provide a lower benefit must notify participants 60 days in advance by issuing a new Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) for each medical coverage option.

Did you describe the suspended (“tolled”) deadlines for filing claims, choosing COBRA, and making change of status notifications?

Some plan sponsors used a footnote in their annual enrollment SMMs to indicate the deadlines that were affected. The deadlines remain suspended for claims or status changes that occur before May 10, 2023. Because some plans allow claims to be filed up to a year after the date an expense is incurred, advise your clients to keep the tolled deadlines in their communications through the first half of 2024, and include the date the end effect of the emergency period ends.


You must request enrollment within 31 days* after the marriage, birth, or adoption…

* This deadline was extended on March 1, 2020, until the earlier of (a) one year after the original deadline, or (b) May 10, 2023. 

Will you extend the Special Enrollment Period for those who lose Medicaid coverage beyond the required 60 days?

With the end of COVID emergency period mandates, many people will lose their state-managed Medicaid coverage. This will drive lower-paid employees back into employer’s plans before the next open enrollment. Plans must allow eligible employees and dependents to enroll during the 60-day period after their Medicaid coverage ends. However, the federal government is encouraging plan sponsors to offer a more generous Special Enrollment Period window⏤ the 60-day period is a required minimum, not a maximum. Employers with a large group of lower-paid employees may want to communicate this opportunity to bring these eligible employees back into their plans through an organized mid-year campaign. 

Do your retirement plans change their required minimum distribution (RMD) dates with changes in the law?

Remember when you changed all the references in your retirement plan communications from “the year you reach age 70-1/2” to “the year you reach age 72?” You get to change them again. Under SECURE 2.0, the RMD rule applies at age 73 for participants who reach age 72 during this calendar year. And mark your calendar, because in 2032, that age jumps to 75. Plan sponsors will especially want to communicate this change to their vested terminated members. 

But have your client check their plan documents first! The language in some plans⏤especially defined benefit plans⏤is fixed on the original age 70-1/2 date. For some plan sponsors, that could result in different RMDs for their defined benefit and defined contribution plans⏤and the need for some carefully crafted communications to participants. 

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