COBRA Subsidy Extended and New COBRA Notices Required


On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), which expanded health care insurance benefits under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). The ARRA granted individuals involuntarily terminated from employment between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009, a subsidy to cover 65 percent of their monthly COBRA premiums for up to nine months. The subsidy is available for individuals with an annual income of less than $125,000 (single) or $250,000 (joint filers). Individuals earning between $125,000 ($250,000 joint) and $145,000 ($290,000 joint) are eligible for "phased-in" assistance.

Under the ARRA, plan administrators are not only responsible for providing notice of the subsidy to eligible individuals, they must also pay the cost of the subsidy up front. The plan administrator may then file IRS Form 941 to claim a payroll tax credit in the amount of subsidies paid. In other words, employers must front 65 percent of eligible individuals' COBRA premiums in exchange for a credit against their payroll taxes.

UPDATE! On December 19, 2009, President Obama signed the 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act (Act), which extends the COBRA premium subsidy provisions and places additional notification requirements on plan administrators. The Act provides eligible individuals with an additional six months of subsidized coverage, extending the availability of the COBRA premium subsidy from nine to 15 months. The Act also allows individuals involuntarily terminated on or before February 28, 2010 to receive the subsidy, extending the original eligibility deadline of December 31, 2009, by two months. Employees involuntarily terminated in January and February 2010 will now be eligible for the subsidy.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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