The IRS has provided guidance for employers, plan administrators, and health insurers regarding the new credit available to them for providing continuation health coverage to certain individuals under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) emergency.
COBRA provides eligible former employees, retirees, spouses, former spouses, and dependent children with the right to temporary continuation of health coverage at group rates. COBRA generally covers health plans maintained by private-sector employers with 20 or more full and part-time employees. It also covers employee organizations or federal, state or local governments. State mini-COBRA laws often provide similar benefits for insured small employers not subject to Federal COBRA.
The American Rescue Plan Act ( P.L. 117-2) provided a temporary 100% reduction in the premium that individuals would have to pay when they elect COBRA continuation health coverage following a reduction in hours or an involuntary termination of employment. The new law provides a corresponding tax credit for the entities that maintain group health plans, such as employers, multiemployer plans, and insurers. The 100% reduction in the premium and the credit are also available with respect to continuation coverage provided for those events under comparable state laws, sometimes referred to as “mini-COBRA.”
Under the new law, COBRA premium assistance is available to eligible individuals as of the first period of coverage beginning on or after April 1, 2021, and will not be available for periods of coverage beginning after September 30, 2021. For each Assistance Eligible Individual, COBRA premium assistance does not extend beyond the period of COBRA continuation coverage in the event that the period ends prior to September 30, 2021. If an individual receiving premium assistance becomes eligible for coverage under any other group health plan or for Medicare, the premium assistance period ends.
Example: On April 1, 2021, the individual’s employment is terminated, and the individual becomes a qualified beneficiary. The individual elects COBRA continuation coverage and becomes an Assistance Eligible Individual with COBRA continuation coverage beginning on April 1, 2021, the date the individual lost coverage. On July 1, 2021, the individual becomes eligible for coverage under a group health plan sponsored by the employer of the individual’s spouse and ceases to be an Assistance Eligible Individual. The individual ceases COBRA continuation coverage as of July 1, 2021, and enrolls in coverage in the group health plan sponsored by the employer of the individual’s spouse. On August 1, 2021, the individual’s spouse has an involuntary termination of employment, and as a result the individual and spouse lose coverage. The individual and spouse become qualified beneficiaries due to the loss of coverage and elect COBRA continuation coverage with the plan sponsored by the spouse’s employer. The individual and spouse become Assistance Eligible Individuals with respect to COBRA continuation coverage as of August 1, 2021.
In Notice 2021-31, the IRS has provided information regarding the calculation of the credit, the eligibility of individuals, the premium assistance period, and other information vital to employers, plan administrators, and insurers to understand the credit.