The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), which was signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021, includes COBRA subsidy provisions that are significant – both for the individuals who will become eligible for COBRA subsidies and for the employers who will be required to subsidize COBRA coverage. The key requirements of the COBRA subsidies, which are effective beginning April 1, 2021, are outlined below.
Two important terms for understanding the COBRA subsidy provisions are:
ARPA requires employers that sponsor group health plan coverage1 to waive 100% of COBRA premiums for Assistance Eligible Individuals for periods of COBRA coverage that occur during the Subsidy Period. While the Subsidy Period runs until September 30, 2021, an individual’s right to the subsidy ends earlier in certain circumstances. Specifically, an individual’s subsidy right ends if the individual becomes eligible for other group health plan coverage (subject to certain exceptions) or Medicare or the individual’s maximum COBRA coverage period expires.
ARPA requires employers that sponsor group health plan coverage to offer a COBRA special election period for two categories of individuals:
Employers are required to notify individuals who are eligible for the special election period no later than May 31, 2021, as described in Notice Requirements below. An individual’s special election period runs from April 1, 2021 until 60 days after the required notice is provided.
COBRA coverage for an individual who elects COBRA coverage during the special election period begins with the first coverage period (e.g., month) that starts on or after April 1, 2021. COBRA coverage can continue through the end of the individual’s original COBRA maximum coverage period (based on the initial COBRA qualifying event).
In addition to the required COBRA subsidies and required COBRA special election period, ARPA permits employers to offer Assistance Eligible Individuals who are enrolled in COBRA coverage the opportunity to change to a different COBRA coverage option. Such a coverage change can be made if the following conditions are met:
ARPA imposes two additional notice requirements in connection with the COBRA subsidies and other COBRA relief:
During the Subsidy Period, employers that sponsor group health plans must distribute COBRA election notices that have been revised or supplemented to include specific content explaining the COBRA subsidies, COBRA special election period, and COBRA coverage change opportunity (if applicable).
The revised COBRA election notices must be provided to (1) individuals who experience COBRA qualifying events during the Subsidy Period, (2) any Assistance Eligible Individuals who became entitled to elect COBRA continuation coverage before April 1, 2021, and (3) individuals who are eligible for the COBRA special election period (as described above). For individuals described in (2) and (3) above, the deadline to provide revised COBRA election notices is May 31, 2021.
The agencies will issue model COBRA election notices within 30 days after the enactment of ARPA.
The plan administrators must notify an Assistance Eligible Individual receiving the COBRA subsidy when the COBRA subsidy is nearing its end date, unless the subsidy ends because the individual becomes eligible for other group health plan coverage or Medicare.
This notice must be provided to an Assistance Eligible Individual between 45 and 15 days before the date that the COBRA subsidy expires.
The agencies will issue model COBRA subsidy expiration notices within 45 days after the enactment of ARPA.
An employer that is required to subsidize COBRA coverage for Assistance Eligible Individuals during the Subsidy Period is eligible for a credit against the employer’s portion of Medicare taxes due for each quarter in which COBRA premiums are waived. The full amount of the COBRA premiums not paid by Assistance Eligible Individuals can be applied as a credit against the employer’s Medicare tax liability.
Employers working to quickly implement the COBRA subsidies by the April 1, 2021 start of the Subsidy Period may want to consider the following: