29 CFR § 2590.715-2708 - Prohibition on waiting periods that exceed 90 days.

§ 2590.715-2708 Prohibition on waiting periods that exceed 90 days.

(a)General rule. A group health plan, and a health insurance issuer offering group health insurance coverage, must not apply any waiting period that exceeds 90 days, in accordance with the rules of this section. If, under the terms of a plan, an individual can elect coverage that would begin on a date that is not later than the end of the 90-day waiting period, this paragraph (a) is considered satisfied. Accordingly, in that case, a plan or issuer will not be considered to have violated this paragraph (a) solely because individuals take, or are permitted to take, additional time (beyond the end of the 90-day waiting period) to elect coverage.

(b)Waiting period defined. For purposes of this part, a waiting period is the period that must pass before coverage for an individual who is otherwise eligible to enroll under the terms of a group health plan can become effective. If an individual enrolls as a late enrollee (as defined under § 2590.701-2) or special enrollee (as described in § 2590.701-6), any period before such late or special enrollment is not a waiting period.

(c)Relation to a plan's eligibility criteria -

(1)In general. Except as provided in paragraphs (c)(2) and (c)(3) of this section, being otherwise eligible to enroll under the terms of a group health plan means having met the plan's substantive eligibility conditions (such as, for example, being in an eligible job classification, achieving job-related licensure requirements specified in the plan's terms, or satisfying a reasonable and bona fide employment-based orientation period). Moreover, except as provided in paragraphs (c)(2) and (c)(3) of this section, nothing in this section requires a plan sponsor to offer coverage to any particular individual or class of individuals (including, for example, part-time employees). Instead, this section prohibits requiring otherwise eligible individuals to wait more than 90 days before coverage is effective. See also section 4980H of the Code and its implementing regulations for an applicable large employer's shared responsibility to provide health coverage to full-time employees.

(2)Eligibility conditions based solely on the lapse of time. Eligibility conditions that are based solely on the lapse of a time period are permissible for no more than 90 days.

(3)Other conditions for eligibility. Other conditions for eligibility under the terms of a group health plan are generally permissible under PHS Act section 2708, unless the condition is designed to avoid compliance with the 90-day waiting period limitation, determined in accordance with the rules of this paragraph (c)(3).

(i)Application to variable-hour employees in cases in which a specified number of hours of service per period is a plan eligibility condition. If a group health plan conditions eligibility on an employee regularly having a specified number of hours of service per period (or working full-time), and it cannot be determined that a newly-hired employee is reasonably expected to regularly work that number of hours per period (or work full-time), the plan may take a reasonable period of time, not to exceed 12 months and beginning on any date between the employee's start date and the first day of the first calendar month following the employee's start date, to determine whether the employee meets the plan's eligibility condition. Except in cases in which a waiting period that exceeds 90 days is imposed in addition to a measurement period, the time period for determining whether such an employee meets the plan's eligibility condition will not be considered to be designed to avoid compliance with the 90-day waiting period limitation if coverage is made effective no later than 13 months from the employee's start date plus, if the employee's start date is not the first day of a calendar month, the time remaining until the first day of the next calendar month.

(ii)Cumulative service requirements. If a group health plan or health insurance issuer conditions eligibility on an employee's having completed a number of cumulative hours of service, the eligibility condition is not considered to be designed to avoid compliance with the 90-day waiting period limitation if the cumulative hours-of-service requirement does not exceed 1,200 hours.

(iii)Limitation on orientation periods. To ensure that an orientation period is not used as a subterfuge for the passage of time, or designed to avoid compliance with the 90-day waiting period limitation, an orientation period is permitted only if it does not exceed one month. For this purpose, one month is determined by adding one calendar month and subtracting one calendar day, measured from an employee's start date in a position that is otherwise eligible for coverage. For example, if an employee's start date in an otherwise eligible position is May 3, the last permitted day of the orientation period is June 2. Similarly, if an employee's start date in an otherwise eligible position is October 1, the last permitted day of the orientation period is October 31. If there is not a corresponding date in the next calendar month upon adding a calendar month, the last permitted day of the orientation period is the last day of the next calendar month. For example, if the employee's start date is January 30, the last permitted day of the orientation period is February 28 (or February 29 in a leap year). Similarly, if the employee's start date is August 31, the last permitted day of the orientation period is September 30.

(d)Application to rehires. A plan or issuer may treat an employee whose employment has terminated and who then is rehired as newly eligible upon rehire and, therefore, required to meet the plan's eligibility criteria and waiting period anew, if reasonable under the circumstances (for example, the termination and rehire cannot be a subterfuge to avoid compliance with the 90-day waiting period limitation).

(e)Counting days. Under this section, all calendar days are counted beginning on the enrollment date (as defined in § 2590.701-2), including weekends and holidays. A plan or issuer that imposes a 90-day waiting period may, for administrative convenience, choose to permit coverage to become effective earlier than the 91st day if the 91st day is a weekend or holiday.

(f)Examples. The rules of this section are illustrated by the following examples:

Example 1.
(i)Facts. A group health plan provides that full-time employees are eligible for coverage under the plan. Employee A begins employment as a full-time employee on January 19.

(ii)Conclusion. In this Example 1, any waiting period for A would begin on January 19 and may not exceed 90 days. Coverage under the plan must become effective no later than April 19 (assuming February lasts 28 days).

Example 2.
(i)Facts. A group health plan provides that only employees with job title M are eligible for coverage under the plan. Employee B begins employment with job title L on January 30.

(ii)Conclusion. In this Example 2, B is not eligible for coverage under the plan, and the period while B is working with job title L and therefore not in an eligible class of employees, is not part of a waiting period under this section.

Example 3.
(i)Facts. Same facts as in Example 2, except that B transfers to a new position with job title M on April 11.

(ii)Conclusion. In this Example 3, B becomes eligible for coverage on April 11, but for the waiting period. Any waiting period for B begins on April 11 and may not exceed 90 days; therefore, coverage under the plan must become effective no later than July 10.

Example 4.
(i)Facts. A group health plan provides that only employees who have completed specified training and achieved specified certifications are eligible for coverage under the plan. Employee C is hired on May 3 and meets the plan's eligibility criteria on September 22.

(ii)Conclusion. In this Example 4, C becomes eligible for coverage on September 22, but for the waiting period. Any waiting period for C would begin on September 22 and may not exceed 90 days; therefore, coverage under the plan must become effective no later than December 21.

Example 5.
(i)Facts. A group health plan provides that employees are eligible for coverage after one year of service.

(ii)Conclusion. In this Example 5, the plan's eligibility condition is based solely on the lapse of time and, therefore, is impermissible under paragraph (c)(2) of this section because it exceeds 90 days.

Example 6.
(i)Facts. Employer V's group health plan provides for coverage to begin on the first day of the first payroll period on or after the date an employee is hired and completes the applicable enrollment forms. Enrollment forms are distributed on an employee's start date and may be completed within 90 days. Employee D is hired and starts on October 31, which is the first day of a pay period. D completes the enrollment forms and submits them on the 90th day after D's start date, which is January 28. Coverage is made effective 7 days later, February 4, which is the first day of the next pay period.

(ii)Conclusion. In this Example 6, under the terms of V's plan, coverage may become effective as early as October 31, depending on when D completes the applicable enrollment forms. Under the terms of the plan, when coverage becomes effective depends solely on the length of time taken by D to complete the enrollment materials. Therefore, under the terms of the plan, D may elect coverage that would begin on a date that does not exceed the 90-day waiting period limitation, and the plan complies with this section.

Example 7.
(i)Facts. Under Employer W's group health plan, only employees who are full-time (defined under the plan as regularly averaging 30 hours of service per week) are eligible for coverage. Employee E begins employment for Employer W on November 26 of Year 1. E's hours are reasonably expected to vary, with an opportunity to work between 20 and 45 hours per week, depending on shift availability and E's availability. Therefore, it cannot be determined at E's start date that E is reasonably expected to work full-time. Under the terms of the plan, variable-hour employees, such as E, are eligible to enroll in the plan if they are determined to be a full-time employee after a measurement period of 12 months that begins on the employee's start date. Coverage is made effective no later than the first day of the first calendar month after the applicable enrollment forms are received. E's 12-month measurement period ends November 25 of Year 2. E is determined to be a full-time employee and is notified of E's plan eligibility. If E then elects coverage, E's first day of coverage will be January 1 of Year 3.

(ii)Conclusion. In this Example 7, the measurement period is permissible because it is not considered to be designed to avoid compliance with the 90-day waiting period limitation. The plan may use a reasonable period of time to determine whether a variable-hour employee is a full-time employee, provided that (a) the period of time is no longer than 12 months; (b) the period of time begins on a date between the employee's start date and the first day of the next calendar month (inclusive); (c) coverage is made effective no later than 13 months from E's start date plus, if the employee's start date is not the first day of a calendar month, the time remaining until the first day of the next calendar month; and (d) in addition to the measurement period, no more than 90 days elapse prior to the employee's eligibility for coverage.

Example 8.
(i)Facts. Employee F begins working 25 hours per week for Employer X on January 6 and is considered a part-time employee for purposes of X's group health plan. X sponsors a group health plan that provides coverage to part-time employees after they have completed a cumulative 1,200 hours of service. F satisfies the plan's cumulative hours of service condition on December 15.

(ii)Conclusion. In this Example 8, the cumulative hours of service condition with respect to part-time employees is not considered to be designed to avoid compliance with the 90-day waiting period limitation. Accordingly, coverage for F under the plan must begin no later than the 91st day after F completes 1,200 hours. (If the plan's cumulative hours-of-service requirement was more than 1,200 hours, the requirement would be considered to be designed to avoid compliance with the 90-day waiting period limitation.)

Example 9.
(i)Facts. A multiemployer plan operating pursuant to an arms-length collective bargaining agreement has an eligibility provision that allows employees to become eligible for coverage by working a specified number of hours of covered employment for multiple contributing employers. The plan aggregates hours in a calendar quarter and then, if enough hours are earned, coverage begins the first day of the next calendar quarter. The plan also permits coverage to extend for the next full calendar quarter, regardless of whether an employee's employment has terminated.

(ii)Conclusion. In this Example 9, these eligibility provisions are designed to accommodate a unique operating structure, and, therefore, are not considered to be designed to avoid compliance with the 90-day waiting period limitation, and the plan complies with this section.

Example 10.
(i)Facts. Employee G retires at age 55 after 30 years of employment with Employer Y with no expectation of providing further services to Employer Y. Three months later, Y recruits G to return to work as an employee providing advice and transition assistance for G's replacement under a one-year employment contract. Y's plan imposes a 90-day waiting period from an employee's start date before coverage becomes effective.

(ii)Conclusion. In this Example 10, Y's plan may treat G as newly eligible for coverage under the plan upon rehire and therefore may impose the 90-day waiting period with respect to G for coverage offered in connection with G's rehire.

Example 11.
(i)Facts. Employee H begins working full time for Employer Z on October 16. Z sponsors a group health plan, under which full time employees are eligible for coverage after they have successfully completed a bona fide one-month orientation period. H completes the orientation period on November 15.

(ii)Conclusion. In this Example 11, the orientation period is not considered a subterfuge for the passage of time and is not considered to be designed to avoid compliance with the 90-day waiting period limitation. Accordingly, plan coverage for H must begin no later than February 14, which is the 91st day after H completes the orientation period. (If the orientation period was longer than one month, it would be considered to be a subterfuge for the passage of time and designed to avoid compliance with the 90-day waiting period limitation. Accordingly it would violate the rules of this section.)

(g)Special rule for health insurance issuers. To the extent coverage under a group health plan is insured by a health insurance issuer, the issuer is permitted to rely on the eligibility information reported to it by the employer (or other plan sponsor) and will not be considered to violate the requirements of this section with respect to its administration of any waiting period, if both of the following conditions are satisfied:

(1) The issuer requires the plan sponsor to make a representation regarding the terms of any eligibility conditions or waiting periods imposed by the plan sponsor before an individual is eligible to become covered under the terms of the plan (and requires the plan sponsor to update this representation with any changes), and

(2) The issuer has no specific knowledge of the imposition of a waiting period that would exceed the permitted 90-day period.

(h)No effect on other laws. Compliance with this section is not determinative of compliance with any other provision of State or Federal law (including ERISA, the Code, or other provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). See e.g.,§ 2590.702, which prohibits discrimination in eligibility for coverage based on a health factor and Code section 4980H, which generally requires applicable large employers to offer coverage to full-time employees and their dependents or make an assessable payment.

(i)Applicability date. The provisions of this section apply for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2015. See§ 2590.715-1251 providing that the prohibition on waiting periods exceeding 90 days applies to all group health plans and group health insurance issuers, including grandfathered health plans.

[79 FR 10311, Feb. 24, 2014, as amended at 79 FR 35947, June 25, 2014]