COBRA Subsidy 2021: What Should I Know?

It was recently announced that there would be a new 100-percent COBRA premium subsidy under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This coverage — which extends from April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021 — has been the source of a lot of confusion.

If you’re an employer, here are some things you need to know about the COBRA subsidy.

Who is Covered By the COBRA Premium Subsidy?

The temporary 100 percent COBRA premium subsidies cover eligible current and former employees. These Assistance Eligible Individuals (AEIs) are COBRA-qualified beneficiaries who may be eligible because they experienced:

  • An involuntary job loss
  • A reduction in hours that made them eligible for COBRA

This includes both the employee and their dependents. These AEIs should also meet one or more of the following requirements:

  • Be enrolled in COBRA as of April 1, 2021, or
  • Became eligible for COBRA between April 1 and September 30, 2021, or
  • Would have been eligible for COBRA on April 1, 2021, but did not choose to be covered or dropped coverage altogether.

Some examples of group health plans (GHPs) that are not covered under this subsidy include:

  • Healthcare FSAs and HSAs
  • Church plans that aren’t subject to ERISA
  • Retiree-only plans

Nearly all qualified beneficiaries aged 65+ will not be eligible for the COBRA subsidy since they are eligible for Medicare, but more on that later. 

A Note On Involuntary Termination

One of the biggest questions since the COBRA subsidy was announced was what exactly is involuntary termination? For instance, if a teacher is employed under a one-year contract and that contract has finished, is it a voluntary or involuntary termination? 

While we wish there was a black and white answer, this is entirely situational (for instance, was the employee given the opportunity to renew their contract and they turned it down?). 

We recommend staying in close contact with your legal counsel to ensure you’re making the right decisions for your past and current employees. 

What is the Amount and Duration of the COBRA Subsidy?

Coverage for the COBRA subsidy is at 100 percent, is free and is not taxable to the AEI. The period is a maximum of six months, from April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021. 

The COBRA subsidy will end for the qualified beneficiary if any of the following situations occur: 

  • The individual is eligible for Medicare (first day of the month on or after)
  • The individual is eligible for other GHP coverage (first day of the month on or after)

There are penalties if an AEI fails to notify the appropriate parties about their eligibility for Medicare or other GHP coverage. 

How Do Individuals Validate Their COBRA Subsidy Status?

Employers are required to provide a notice to AEIs and their qualified beneficiaries of the COBRA premium subsidy and the ways in which they may qualify. Remember that the only qualifying event for being an AEI is to have either been involuntarily terminated or had a reduction of hours. 

If this is the case, your COBRA vendor will send eligible employees a second-chance election where they confirm they are eligible. At that point, employees will fill out a form and elect their free coverage.

If an employee or former employee is an AEI who prepaid for coverage during the six-month COBRA subsidy period, they will be refunded for those premiums. 

If you’re looking for more information, check out the Department of Labor’s COBRA Premium Assistance FAQ page. 

Need help navigating the COBRA subsidy or have other health plan questions? Cornerstone’s employee benefits team is here to help. Contact us today.