US Department of Labor’s FAQs on COBRA Continuing Health Care Coverage

A recent discussion of county Human Resources officers highlighted new federal rules, arising from the American Rescue Plan Act, altering employer and employee responsibilities for continuing health care coverage post-employment. A F-A-Q document available from the US Department of Labor is a good guide to employer and employee need-to-know topics.

From the US Department of Labor, here are selections from the Frequently Asked Questions about COBRA health insurance continuing coverage:

General Information

Q1: I have heard that the ARP included temporary COBRA premium assistance to pay for health coverage. I would like more information.

The ARP provides temporary premium assistance for COBRA continuation coverage for Assistance Eligible Individuals (see Q3 to determine if you are eligible). COBRA allows certain people to extend employment-based group health plan coverage, if they would otherwise lose the coverage due to certain life events such as loss of a job.

Individuals may be eligible for premium assistance if they are eligible for and elect COBRA continuation coverage because of their own or a family member’s reduction in hours or an involuntary termination from employment. This premium assistance is available for periods of coverage from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021. This premium assistance is generally available for continuation coverage under the Federal COBRA provisions, as well as for group health insurance coverage under comparable state continuation coverage (“mini-COBRA”) laws.

If you were offered Federal COBRA continuation coverage as a result of a reduction in hours or an involuntary termination of employment, and you declined to take COBRA continuation coverage at that time, or you elected Federal COBRA continuation coverage and later discontinued it, you may have another opportunity to elect COBRA continuation coverage and receive the premium assistance, if the maximum period you would have been eligible for COBRA continuation coverage has not yet expired (if COBRA continuation coverage had been elected or not discontinued).

Q2: Which plans does the premium assistance apply to?

The COBRA premium assistance provisions apply to all group health plans sponsored by private-sector employers or employee organizations (unions) subject to the COBRA rules under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). They also apply to plans sponsored by State or local governments subject to the continuation provisions under the Public Health Service Act. The premium assistance is also available for group health insurance required under state mini-COBRA laws.

Q3: How can I tell if I am eligible to receive the COBRA premium assistance?

The ARP makes the premium assistance available for “Assistance Eligible Individuals.” An Assistance Eligible Individual is a COBRA qualified beneficiary who meets the following requirements during the period from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021:

Is eligible for COBRA continuation coverage by reason of a qualifying event that is a reduction in hours (such as reduced hours due to change in a business’s hours of operations, a change from full-time to part-time status, taking of a temporary leave of absence, or an individual’s participation in a lawful labor strike, as long as the individual remains an employee at the time that hours are reduced) or an involuntary termination of employment (not including a voluntary termination); and

Elects COBRA continuation coverage.

For a full list of FAQs on COBRA coverage, see the Department of Labor website.

See the DOL full list of FAQ and guidance documents, also available online.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties
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