DOL Posts, Model Notices, Other Additional Guidance On Stimulus Bill COBRA Rules

Cynthia Stamer
March 19, 2009 — 1,458 views  
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The U.S. Department of Labor ("DOL") this morning (March 19, 2009) posted Model Notices and other additional guidance about temporary requirements added to the group health plan medical coverage continuation requirements of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, as amended ("COBRA") by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 ("Stimulus Bill"). Employers, health plan administrators, and health insurers involved in the sponsorship or administration of COBRA-covered group health plans should consult with counsel about the suitability of using the Model Notices to provide required notifications of the new Stimulus Bill COBRA rules and other steps necessary to comply with the new requirements.

Compliance with the Stimulus Bill COBRA Mandates is mandatory for all COBRA-covered plans.

 The new guidance posed today includes:

  • Various Model Notices
  • New FAQs for Employers on the COBRA Premium Reduction
  • Expanded FAQs for Employees on the COBRA Premium Reduction
  • Updated FAQs for Employees on General COBRA Provisions

While the Model Notices and other guidance provides helpful insights about the new requirements, many group health plan sponsors, administrators and fiduciaries are likely to find it necessary or desirable to specifically tailor the notifications and other procedures they provide to more clearly communicate the workings of the new requirements as they relate to their specific plans so as to minimize administrative burdens of compliance and fiduciary risks.

The Stimulus Bill provisions that took effect on February 17, 2009 require special COBRA treatment for "assistance eligible individuals." See "Stimulus Bill COBRA Amendments Require Immediate Group Health Plan Action" for more information. The Stimulus Bill COBRA amendments are intended to help certain involuntarily terminated former employees and their dependents maintain COBRA coverage.  Employers must amend their plans to comply with these mandates and, if they wish to seek reimbursement for COBRA Subsidies, must comply with IRS requirements. Meanwhile, group health plan administrators and insurers must take immediate action to provide required notifications and implement other administrative changes necessary to comply with the new rules.

The Stimulus Bill definition of "assistance eligible individual" generally includes any COBRA "qualified beneficiary" who meets all of the following requirements:

  • Is eligible for COBRA continuation coverage at any time during the period beginning September 1, 2008 and ending December 31, 2009;
  • Elects COBRA coverage (when first offered or during the additional election period): and
  • Has a qualifying event for COBRA coverage that is the employee's involuntary termination during the period beginning September 1, 2008 and ending December 31, 2009.

This definition includes both involuntarily terminated employees and their dependents who lost coverage under a group health plan due to the involuntary termination. 

As part of their COBRA amendments, the Stimulus Bill limits the COBRA premium that a COBRA-covered group health plan can charge an "assistance eligible individual" to 35% of the otherwise applicable COBRA premium for a period of up to 9 months (the "Subsidy Period") beginning March 1, 2009.  Employers sponsoring these group health plans must pay the remaining 65% of the COBRA premium (the "COBRA Subsidy") for the assistance eligible individual during the Subsidy Period.  However, the Stimulus Bill allows an employer to seek reimbursement by claiming a payroll tax credit for these COBRA Subsidy payments by complying with applicable IRS procedures. 

The Stimulus Bill also requires certain assistance eligible individuals whose employment terminated between September 1, 2008 and February 16, 2009 and did not elect COBRA coverage when previously offered or who allowed COBRA coverage to lapse after electing that coverage be offered a second COBRA enrollment period in which to elect prospectively to enroll in COBRA coverage.  It also requires that group health plans that offer employees different plan options allow assistance eligible individuals the option to change their coverage choice.  Also Group health plan administrators must provide certain notifications to assistance eligible individuals concerning these changes.

The guidance posted today supplements preliminary guidance previously posted by the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor over the past month. You can review the current Deparment of Labor Guidance at http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/COBRA.html and the current IRS Guidance at ttp://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=204505,00.html.

The Stimulus Bill COBRA rules were among the updates discussed by Cynthia Marcotte Stamer during a March 11, 2009 Health Plan Update Teleconference.  If you are an employer or other group health plan sponsor, administrator, insurer or fiduciary and need assistance in preparing required notifications or with other matters relating to the Stimulus Bill COBRA Rules or any other health or other employee benefits matter, contact Cynthia Marcotte Stamer at [email protected] or via telephone at 972.419.7188.

For information about how to purchase a recording of this teleconference or to review other breaking news updates about these Stimulus Bill COBRA Rules, register at Cynthia Stamer.com.

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Cynthia Stamer

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Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, is nationally and internationally recognized for her work assisting businesses, governments, and other entities to develop creative strategies for dealing with employee benefit and related human resources, insurance, health care and finance concerns. Ms. Stamer helps businesses design, administer and defend cost-effective employee benefit other human resources programs, policies and procedures to meet their budgetary and other business objectives.