Monday, March 2, 2009

Stimulus Package includes substantial COBRA changes to benefit the recently unemployed

The Stimulus Package just signed into law by President Obama (a/k/a “The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009” (ARRA) contains significant changes to the COBRA laws designed to provide temporary relief for those affected by the economic downturn. These changes are effective with the March 1, 2009 health insurance policy period.

Employers already subject to COBRA (i.e., more than twenty employees) must subsidize 65% of an eligible individual’s COBRA premiums for as many as nine months. Persons who are eligible for this assistance (“assistance eligible individuals”) are employees who have been involuntarily terminated for other than gross misconduct between September 1, 2008, and December 31, 2009.
and their qualified beneficiaries.

The employer subsidy becomes taxable to the AEI whose adjusted gross income exceeds $125,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married filing jointly and is waivable by 'high income individuals' with adjusted gross income of $145,000 filing individually or $290,000 filing jointly.

Employers paying the benefit will receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit against payroll taxes in the year in which the subsidy is paid. The subsidy is retroactive, and therefore, employers who are subject to these amendments will have to re-notice AEI’s, even if they have already made their COBRA elections since employment termination.

Employers are permitted but not required to offer lower-cost benefit coverage to AEI’s within ninety days of the COBRA notice date, and allow such individuals to switch to such benefits to reduce costs.

For further information, see here and the entire text of ARRA is available here.


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