Is Your Small Business Affected By the New COBRA Subsidy?

March 26, 2009

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provides a COBRA subsidy for Employees who lost or will lose health insurance coverage under an employer-sponsored plan due to an involuntary termination of employment between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009. Many employers have no doubt that they are subject to these changes and are currently in the process of implementing updates. However, with the recent news about changes to COBRA, some small employers are asking themselves, do my employees qualify and am I required to provide COBRA continuation coverage? The good news is that the ARRA has not expanded the type of employer-provided plans subject to the Act, so if employers were not required to provide COBRA continuation coverage prior to the ARRA, they would not be required to do so now. 

COBRA continuation coverage applies to all private sector group health plans which are maintained by employers that have at least 20 employees on more than 50% of its typical business days in the previous calendar year. In determining the total number of employees, full and part-time employees are counted. However, each part-time employee counts as a fraction of a full-time employee. The fraction for a part-time employee equals the number of hours the part-time employee worked, divided by the hours an employee must work to be considered full-time. Therefore, if a private sector employer is offering a group health plan with at least 20 employees as calculated above, the employer must provide COBRA continuation coverage and will be required to abide by the new provisions in ARRA. COBRA continuation coverage also applies to state and local government-sponsored plans, but does not apply to plans sponsored by the federal government or by churches and church-related organizations. 

If you are not currently providing COBRA coverage but you think you may be nearing the threshold described above, it is imperative that you carefully review your 2008 employee census to determine if you are required to provide continuation coverage under COBRA.