COBRA Premium Subsidy Requirements Expanded & Extended Under Newly Signed Unemployment Extension Legislation

March 3, 2010

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

Employers, insurers and administrators again must move quickly to deal with newly enacted changes to the premium subsidy requirements temporarily applicable to the medical coverage continuation requirements of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, as amended (“COBRA”).

The extension and other changes to the COBRA premium subsidy requirements became immediately effective yesterday (March 2, 2010) when President Obama signed the Temporary Extension Act of 2010 (H.R. 4691). H.R. 4691 both extends unemployment benefits through April 5, 2010 and extends and expands the availability of the COBRA subsidy program originally established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Over the past several days, H.R. 4691 has drawn great media attention when its enactment was delayed by a filibuster by Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning.  As media coverage of the Bunning filibuster focused almost exclusively on its unemployment benefit extension provisions, many U.S. employers and others are unaware of its provisions extending and expanding the COBRA premium subsidy mandates and authorizing higher pay for Medicare doctors and funding for federal highway programs. President Obama signed H.R. 4691 into law just hours after Senator Bunning ended his filibuster.

COBRA Premium Subsidy Extended & New Penalties Added

Group health plans and their sponsoring employers face added responsibilities under the COBRA subsidy amendments adopted under H.R. 4691.

The COBRA subsidy rules originally were added to COBRA’s medical coverage continuation requirements by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“AARA”) last February.  Originally, an employee or dependent was required, among other things, to have experienced a loss of coverage as a result of an involuntary termination occurring between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009 to qualify for coverage under the COBRA premium subsidy rules as “assistance eligible individual for up to 9 months.  In subsequently enacted legislation, however, Congress extended the involuntary termination period through February 28, 2010 and lengthened the maximum premium COBRA subsidy period to 15 months.  For more details, see here. H.R. 4691 now further extends and expands these COBRA premium subsidy rules.

H.R. 4691’s COBRA provisions both extend the period that an involuntary termination can qualify an employee or dependent for the COBRA premium subsidy, the employment losses that can qualify as an eligible involuntary termination, and the potential liability that can result from noncompliance.  Specifically, H.R. 4691 among other things:

  • Extends through March 31, 2010 the period within which an involuntary employment loss resulting in a loss of health coverage can qualify an employee or his dependent for the 15-month 65 percent COBRA premium subsidy. Before H.R. 4691, the involuntary termination period was scheduled to end February 28, 2010.  Now, the involuntary termination period runs from September 1, 2009 through March 31, 2010;
  • Amends the COBRA subsidy program to clarify that an employee that first experiences a loss of group health plan coverage due to a reduction in hours before subsequently being terminated qualifies as an employee  involuntarily terminated for purposes of determining his eligibility for the COBRA premium subsidy;
  • Details rules and procedures that group health plans and employers or others charged with administration of the COBRA premium subsidy rules must follow to notify affected individuals about and administer the new or expanded COBRA premium subsidy rights added by H.R. 4691;

In addition to these extensions to the COBRA premium subsidy requirements, H.R. 4691 also expands the exposures that plan sponsors and health insurers violating these requirements can face.  H.R. 4691 provides that in addition to civil actions that already authorized for violations of COBRA:

  • “[T]he appropriate Secretary” or an affected individual can bring a civil suit for declaratory or other appropriate relief; and
  • The appropriate Secretary” can assess a penalty against a plan sponsor or health insurance issuer of up to $110 per day for each failure to comply with a determination of the Secretary within 10 days after receipt of the determination.

To minimize their COBRA rights under the amended COBRA premium subsidy rules, group health plans, their employer or union sponsors, administrators, insurers and service providers will need to act quickly to prepare and provider required updated notifications to assistance eligible individuals of these extended eligibility periods and their resulting rights, and otherwise update their plan documents, procedures, and COBRA notifications in light of these new rules. 

Other Health Plan Updates Also Required

The COBRA premium subsidy changes in H.R. 4691 are only part of the ever-growing list of federal mandates that group health plan sponsors, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators and service providers need to be concerned about.  Health plans, their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries, insurers, business associates and other service providers face a host of other new federal health plan and privacy mandates that have taken effect over the past year, will become subject to additional mandates in upcoming months and face expanded penalty and other liability exposures.  Consequently, beyond the COBRA premium subsidy updates required by yesterday’s amendments, health plans, their employer or other sponsors, insurers, fiduciaries, administrators and service providers also should not overlook the need to review and update their health plans in response to a host of other changes in federal health plan mandates.

In addition to otherwise applicable civil damage awards and civil penalty exposures that can result from violations of these requirements, new Internal Revenue Service regulations that took effect January 1, 2010 also require that employers, health plans or others self-report violations of certain of these requirements and self assess and pay resulting excise taxes arising under the Internal Revenue Code.  See, e.g., COBRA, HIPAA, GINA, Mental Health Parity or Other Group Health Plan Rule Violations Trigger New Excise Tax Self-Assessment & Reporting Obligations

The highly volatile health plan regulatory environment makes it likely that many health plans are not appropriately updated to comply with these and other federal requirements. In recent months, health plans, their employer or other sponsors, administrators and others also have become obligated to comply with a host of other expanded federal health plan rules and requirements. See e.g., New Mental Health Parity Regulations Require Health Plan Review & Updates; New Labor Department Rule Allows Employers 7 Days To Deliver Employee Contributions To Employee Benefit Plans; Newly Extended COBRA Subsidy Rules Require Employers, Administrators Send Required Notices & Update Health Plan Documents & Procedures Quickly;  Employer & Other Health Plans & Other HIPAA-Covered Entities & Their Business Associates Must Comply With New HHS Health Information Data Breach Rules By September 23.

These and other developments make it imperative that health plans, their sponsors, administrators, insurers, fiduciaries and service providers get serious about complying with these and other federal health plan mandates, to tighten their credentialing, selection, oversight and contracts with administrators and vendors, and take other prudent steps to manage health plan related risks.

Unemployment Insurance Extensions

In addition to amending and extending ARRA’s COBRA premium subsidy rules, H.R. 4691’s unemployment insurance benefit provisions:

  • Extend the period during which individuals may file applications for Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) from the current end date of February 28, 2010 to April 5, 2010 and extend  the period during which individuals may claim and be paid EUC from July 31, 2010 to September 4, 2010;
  • Extend from the current end date of February 28, 2010 to April 5, 2010 the period during which individuals may qualify for the Federal Additional Compensation (FAC), the extra $25 weekly benefit amount on state and federal unemployment compensation, while also providing for weekly payment during the phase out period for weeks ending October 5, 2010 instead of August 31, 2010; and.
  • Extend the period during which 100% federal reimbursement for weeks of regular federal extended benefit payments to April 5, 2010, with the state option to continue the extended period from July 31, 2010 to September 4, 2010.

For Added Information or Assistance

If your organization need advice or assistance about COBRA, unemploymenent benefits or other labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation or related matters, consider contacting Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Partner Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. 

Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization,  Ms. Stamer has extensive experience advising and representing management about these and other labor and employment, employee benefits, compensation and other related management matters.  The current Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits  and the former Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works extensively with employer and other health plan sponsors and fiduciaries, insurers, third party administrators and others to design, document, administer and defend group and other health plan designs in light of COBRA and other federal and state regulations.  A nationally recognized author and lecturer, Ms. Stamer is the author of the “Health Plan Eligibility Toolkit” and many other highly regarded publications and workshops on COBRA and other health plan mandates.  She speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters.

To seek the assistance of Ms. Stamer with these or other matters or to make arrangements for her to present a workshop or other training, contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here. To explore other publications by Ms. Stamer, see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly. 

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Examples of other recent updates that may be of interest include:

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2010 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.


Newly Extended COBRA Subsidy Rules Require Employers, Administrators Send Required Notices & Update Health Plan Documents & Procedures Quickly

January 6, 2010

Employer and union sponsored group health plans, their sponsors and administrators must act quickly to provide required notifications and implement other plan document and procedural changes required to comply with the extension and expansion of temporary “COBRA Subsidy Rules” for “assistance eligible individuals” signed into law as part of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326).  In some cases, required notifications are due in early February, 2010.

The COBRA Subsidy Rules originally were 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 (“AARA”) last February and extended and expanded just before Congress recessed for the Holidays.  H.R. 3326 extended the period that employer and union-sponsored group health plans must allow employees and members of their family that lose group health plan coverage due to an involuntary employment loss to continue their group medical coverage under the reduced premium and other temporary ARRA COBRA Subsidy Rules and lengthened the period during which an involuntary employment loss can qualify an otherwise COBRA-eligible employee or dependent as an assistance eligible individual.  Health plan administrators must provide notifications to assistance eligible individuals and restore COBRA eligibility and coverage at reduced premiums for certain assistance eligible individuals who allowed their coverage to lapse before the extension. Legislation that would reduced the premiums health plans are allowed to charge and further extend the rules to June, 2010 still is pending in Congress.  Curran Tomko Tarski LLP already has worked with several clients to understand these changes, amend their documents and prepare notices.   Read more.

Group health plans, their employer or union sponsors, administrators, insurers and service providers will need to act quickly to prepare and provider required updated notifications to assistance eligible individuals of these extended eligibility periods and their resulting rights,  and otherwise update their plan documents, procedures, and COBRA notifications in light of these new rules. 

If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating, commenting on or responding to these or other employment, health or other employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance or other concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  The author of the “Health Plan Eligibility Toolkit,” Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers, insurers, administrators, and others to design and administer group health plans cost-effectively in accordance with COBRA and other applicable federal regulations as well as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators.. Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, a representative to the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 22 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

 

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


President Signs Law Extending & Expanding Temporary AARA COBRA Subsidy Requirements For Group Health Plans

December 22, 2009

By Cynthia Marcotte Stamer

Employer and union sponsored group health plans, their sponsors and administrators must act quickly to comply with the extension and expansion of temporary “COBRA Subsidy Rules” for “assistance eligible individuals” originally 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 (“AARA”) last February.

The Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 3326) signed into law by President Obama on December 19, 2009 extended the period that employer and union-sponsored group health plans must allow employees and members of their family that lose group health plan coverage due to an involuntary employment loss to continue their group medical coverage under the reduced premium and other temporary ARRA COBRA Subsidy Rules and lengthened the period during which an involuntary employment loss can qualify an otherwise COBRA-eligible employee or dependent as an assistance eligible individual.

Original COBRA Subsidy Rules

As originally enacted, the ARRA COBRA Subsidy Rules limited the COBRA premium that a COBRA-covered group health plan could charge a COBRA-eligible employee or dependent whose group health plan eligibility ended due to an involuntary employment loss between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009 (“assistance eligible individual”) to 35% of the otherwise applicable COBRA premium (the “Reduced ARRA Premium”) for a period of up to 9 months (the “Subsidy Period”).  ARRA dictated that 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, but allowed employers to seek reimbursement by claiming a payroll tax credit for these COBRA Subsidy payments by complying with applicable IRS procedures.  AARA also mandated that group health plans offering a choice of coverage options offer assistance eligible individuals the option to switch coverage options and required group health plans to notify assistance eligible individuals of the special COBRA Subsidy Rules.

H.R. 3326 COBRA Subsidy Rules Extension

As signed into law on December 19, 2009, H.R. 3326:

  • Extends the period during which an involuntary employment loss can qualify an otherwise COBRA-eligible employee or dependent as an assistance eligible individual for an additional two months (from December 31, 2009 to February 28, 2010);
  • Adds an additional six months (from 9 to 15 months) the Subsidy Period during which an assistance eligible individual experiencing an involuntary loss of employment between September 1, 2008 and February 28, 2010 is entitled to pay the Reduced AARA Premium;
  • Requires group health plans to notify assistance eligible individuals of the extension; and
  • Requires group health plans to allow additional time for assistance eligible individuals who had exhausted their original 9-month Subsidy Period before H.R. 3326 extended the Subsidy Period to 15 months to pay the Reduced AARA Premium related to the extension.

Group health plans, their employer or union sponsors, administrators, insurers and service providers will need to act quickly to prepare and provider required updated notifications to assistance eligible individuals of these extended eligibility periods and their resulting rights,  and otherwise update their plan documents, procedures, and COBRA notifications in light of these new rules. 

If you have questions about or need assistance evaluating, commenting on or responding to these or other employment, health or other employee benefit, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance or other concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  The author of the “Health Plan Eligibility Toolkit,” Ms. Stamer is experienced with assisting employers, insurers, administrators, and others to design and administer group health plans cost-effectively in accordance with COBRA and other applicable federal regulations as well as advising and defending employers and others against tax, employment discrimination and other labor and employment, and other related audits, investigations and litigation, charges, audits, claims and investigations by the IRS, Department of Labor and other federal and state regulators.. Chair of the American Bar Association RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, a representative to the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Ms. Stamer has advised and represented employers on these and other labor and employment, compensation, employee benefit and other personnel and staffing matters for more than 22 years. Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters.  For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.  Some other recent updates that may be of interested include the following, which you can access by clicking on the article title:

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved. 


Congress Considering Extending & Expanding Group Health Plan COBRA Subsidy Mandates On Heels of Enactment of Expanded Military Leave-Related Family Leave Mandates

November 5, 2009

Following up on its October expansion of federal requirements that employers and their group health plans provide family leave rights in relation to certain military related absences, Congress now is considering extending and expanding the “COBRA Premium Subsidy” rules for group health plans enacted by Congress on February 17, 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) beyond their currently scheduled December 31, 2009 expiration date and further to restrict the amount that group health plans can charge former employees and their dependents covered by the COBRA Premium Subsidy rules to maintain coverage under the coverage continuation mandates of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, as amended (“COBRA”).

COBRA generally allows employee and dependents who otherwise would lose eligibility for group health benefits under union or employer sponsored plans temporarily to continue enrollment in the group health plan by paying up to 102 percent of the full cost of that coverage (the “COBRA premium”) and fulfilling certain other conditions set forth in COBRA.  Under ARRA’s COBRA Premium Subsidy Rules, Congress among other things amended COBRA through December 31, 2009 to require that employers “subsidize” 65% of the otherwise applicable COBRA premium for employees or dependents electing COBRA coverage following a loss of eligibility due to the involuntary employment termination between September 15, 2008 and December 31, 2009 who otherwise qualify as “assistance eligible individuals” under ARRA.  The COBRA Premium Subsidy rules created a mechanism through which employers providing the required COBRA Premium Subsidy can claim a payroll tax credit for COBRA Premium Subsidy amounts paid with respect to assistance eligible individuals in accordance with ARRA’s mandates. 

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Robert P. Casey (D-PA) now are proposing that Congress extend and expand ARRA COBRA Premium Subsidy requirements applicable to group health plans as proposed by the “COBRA Subsidy Extension and Enhancement Act” (S. 2730).  Introduced on November 5, 2009, the Government Printing Office had not published the text of S. 2730 as of the release of this publication.  However, It is expected that the official text of S. 2730 will be made available for review soon here. In the meanwhile, the reading of S. 2730 into the record when introduced in the Senate on November 4, 2009 and its sponsors’ news releases, the “COBRA Subsidy Extension and Enhancement Act” (S. 2730) proposes that Congress:

  • Extend the COBRA Premium Subsidy requirements an extra six months to 15 months;
  • Increase the required subsidy amount during the extended COBRA Premium Subsidy period from 65 percent to 75 percent of the COBRA premium; and
  • Clarify that the employees and dependents eligible to qualify as assistance eligible individuals under ARRA includes those losing group health plan eligibility due to an employment loss, whether from an actual employment termination or a decline in hours of employment.

Expanded FMLA Military Leave Related Mandates Added Under Defense Appropriations Laws Already Require Immediate Action

The proposal in S. 2730 to extend the ARRA COBRA Premium Subsidy mandates is the latest in a series of recently enacted and proposed federal laws and implementing regulations imposing an ever-expanding list of federal eligibility mandates on employment based group health plans.  These include not only an expanding list of federal mandates that group health plans make available continued coverage to individuals whose eligibility for coverage otherwise would end on account of an employment decline or loss such as those enacted as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, Public Law 111-84 (“2010 NDAA”), signed into law by President Obama on October 28, 2009 and the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 the (“2008 NDAA”) signed into law by President Bush in January, 2008.  These FMLA military leave-related mandates are in addition to separate group health coverage continuation mandates separately imposed upon employers and group health plans under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

For instance, the 2008 NDAA amended the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) to add new family military-leave provisions, which were further expanded by the 2010 NDAA.  The 2008 NDAA adds two new qualifying circumstances under which eligible employees must be allowed to take FMLA leave and to continue group health plan coverage during that FMLA:

  •  “Qualifying exigency leave” and
  •  “Military caregiver leave,” also referred to as “leave to care for a covered servicemember.”

Final regulations implementing the 2008 NDAA FMLA mandates and other FMLA requirements took effect on January 16, 2009. The NDAA for 2010 further amended these family military-leave mandates to expand the circumstances under which the FMLA leave mandates employers and their group health plans extend FMLA leave rights in relation to military members. 

Beyond these military-leave related group health plan mandates, group health plans also are required to comply with a host of other recently-expanded federal eligibility and other mandates such as new mandates to offer up to 12-months coverage continuation for dependents whose coverage otherwise would terminate due to a medically required break in school enrollment, expanded group health plan special enrollment and nondiscrimination rules imposed under ARRA, the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”) and the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act  (“HIPAA”) and various others.  Congress is considering further amendments to these and other federal mandates under proposals included in the various health care bills being heavily debated in Congress, as well as others included in legislation proposed separately from these broader health care reform proposals.

Take Prompt Action to Manage Risks

In addition to monitoring and sharing their input with Congress about S. 2730 and other proposed legislation impacting their group health plans, group health plans, their sponsoring employers or unions, insurers, fiduciaries and administrative service providers also should take prompt action to ensure that their group health plan documents, notices and other communications, processes and procedures have been properly updated in response to the statutory regulatory changes to federal group health plan eligibility and other mandates.

If you have questions about or need assistance reviewing or sharing your input with Congress about S. 2730 or other proposed legislation, evaluating and updating, administering or defending your group health plan in light of these or other federal regulations, or with other employee benefit, employment, compensation, workplace health and safety, corporate ethics and compliance practices, concerns or claims, please contact the author of this article, Curran Tomko Tarski LLP Labor & Employment Practice Group Chair Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and past chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer has more than 20 years experience advising and representing employee benefit plans, employers, plan sponsors and fiduciaries, administrative services providers, insurers and others about these and other related matters.  Ms. Stamer also speaks and writes extensively on these and other related matters. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.   For additional information about the experience and services of Ms. Stamer and other members of the Curran Tomko Tarksi LLP team, see here.

Other Information & Resources

We hope that this information is useful to you. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here or e-mailing this information here or registering to participate in the distribution of our Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update distributions here.

For important information concerning this communication click here.   If you do not wish to receive these updates in the future, send an e-mail with the word “Remove” in the Subject here.

©2009 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. All rights reserved.