David Kirkpatrick

April 16, 2009

COBRA backgrounder

Here’s a good, easy to follow backgrounder on COBRA. I’ve recently blogged on this topic based on an article I wrote for WeCompareInsurance.com.

From the first link:

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the stimulus package, created a significant amount of work for employee benefits professionals with its recent COBRA changes. ARRA creates a federal 65% subsidy for COBRA insurance for individuals who involuntarily lost or will lose their jobs between Sept. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2009.

For example, if the monthly cost of COBRA coverage is $1,000, and employees are responsible for the full premium, under the subsidy, the employee will only be required to pay $350 each month for COBRA coverage, with a federal subsidy of $650.

How it works

The mechanics of the subsidy are interesting. Employers will receive a credit on their payroll tax returns for the federal subsidy. For example, if the federal subsidy is $650, and employee pays $350 for COBRA coverage, the employer will receive a credit of $650 on its federal withholding tax returns (i.e., Form 941).

For employers with more than 20 employees, these procedures will apply whether a plan is fully insured or self-insured. However, workers at small firms, who are not normally eligible for COBRA coverage, still will be entitled to the federal subsidy if state-mandated coverage is comparable to COBRA. However, in these circumstances, the insurance carrier, and not the employer, will be the entity responsible for providing the subsidy and taking the payroll tax credit.

The COBRA subsidy only lasts for a maximum of nine months. When COBRA rights are cut off, the subsidy ends. For example, if an employee receives new employment with a one-month waiting period, when the employee becomes eligible for new coverage, the COBRA subsidy ends. It is the responsibility of employees to notify employers when new coverage exists.

If an employer denies the employee the federal subsidy, there is an appeals procedure with the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services. It is likely that disputes will exist with regard to employees who fail to return to employment following a period of FMLA leave or other leave of absence and consider themselves to be terminated. In many of these situations, the employer will consider the employee to have voluntarily abandoned their position when they fail to return to work following the expiration of an approved leave of absence. Clarification regarding the definition of involuntary termination is expected.

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