The U. S. Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service have extended health plan coverage decision deadlines for survivors of Hurricane Katrina.[@@]

The Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration says it and the IRS are giving Katrina survivors extra time to make sure that they don’t lose health coverage or other important benefits because they were unable to meet the usual deadlines.

The extension allots more time for workers to submit premiums to continue coverage under COBRA, which permits workers to keep their health care plan when leaving an employer.

Workers in affected areas also are getting more time to comply with certain deadlines in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and with rules for processing health claims.

In addition, employers in affected areas will get more time to notify participants of their rights to continue benefits, the Labor Department says.

The ruling also will protect workers from preexisting-condition exclusions that would otherwise prevent them from being covered for current medical conditions by new insurers, and it gives them more time to choose to join their spouses’ health plans.

The effect of the extension is to freeze the application of time limits from Katrina’s Aug. 29 landfall through Jan. 3, 2006.

Another part of the ruling will require employee benefit plans to extend time frames for affected individuals to file benefit claims and to file appeals.