Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Demystifying the COBRA subsidy

The federal stimulus package is called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Act allows qualified beneficiaries who are eligible for COBRA due to an involuntary termination to pay 35% of the cost of the COBRA coverage. The remaining 65% of the plan cost will be paid by the U.S. government. An employer gets reimbursed for the 65% of the plan cost when it files its 941 for payroll taxes. The subsidy eligibility ends on December 31, 2009.

The Act is retroactive in that the coverage applies to all employees involuntarily terminated from September 1, 2008, to February 16, 2009, and to their qualified beneficiaries, even if they did not elect COBRA coverage when it was offered to them. So, that means employers have to contact employees and beneficiaries terminated during that time frame by April 18, 2009 (60 days after the February 17, 2009 enactment date).

In addition to the regular COBRA notice, an employer should send a supplemental notice to affected individuals with additional information including, for example, information about the individual’s right to the subsidy and the conditions on the subsidy, a description of the obligation of the individual to notify the employer of eligibility under another group health plan or Medicare, and the penalty for failure to provide this notification. The DOL is required to provide a sample notification form by March 19, 2009.

Unfortunately, the Act does not define the term “involuntary termination”, so any involuntary termination is covered. Accordingly, employees who are terminated for poor performance, attendance problems, and other reasons appear to be eligible for the subsidy. Employees who are terminated for gross misconduct, however, are not covered, since a termination for gross misconduct is not a qualifying event under COBRA.

The subsidy is equal to 65% of the monthly COBRA premium for the qualified beneficiary for up to 9 months. The subsidy applies to medical, dental, and vision benefits. It does not apply to medical flexible reimbursement accounts. Employees and other qualified beneficiaries are required to pay the other 35% of the premium.

No comments: