IRS answers more pressing COBRA questions

If you’re an employer struggling with COBRA questions, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has published added guidance on the federal premium subsidy to help answer some of the most common issues.

The new COBRA regulations, which were part of President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, contain specific changes to COBRA health benefit requirements that affect former employees, their employers and COBRA coverage providers.

Under the subsidy, involuntarily terminated employees must pay 35 percent of the COBRA premium and employers must front the money for the remaining 65 percent. After paying insurers directly, employers can then claim the payment as an offset against payroll tax liabilities using the updated Form 941.

The IRS published information earlier this year to answer major questions from the public regarding eligibility for the COBRA subsidy. Information has been added to the question-and-answer style document as new questions develop.

Last week, the IRS updated the online document with additional information including guidance on whether an employee who is a reservist would be eligible for the subsidy if called to active duty.

Q. Does an involuntary termination of employment occur if a member of a military Reserve unit or the National Guard who is employed by a civilian employer is called to active duty?

A. Yes. This is the case regardless of whether the civilian employer otherwise treats the employee’s absence as a termination of employment or a leave of absence.

The IRS also added information in response to questions regarding elected officials and employees hired for a limited period of time.

Q. In the case of an employee who is hired only for a limited period, such as a seasonal worker, or a teacher hired only for one school year, can the end of employment at the end of the period be considered an involuntary termination?

A. Yes. Under Notice 2009-27, Q&A-1, an involuntary termination may include the employer’s failure to renew a contract at the time the contract expires, if the employee was willing and able to execute a new contract providing terms and conditions similar to those in the expiring contract and to continue providing the services. Thus, if an employee hired for a limited period works to the end of the period, is willing and able to continue employment, and terminates employment because of the failure of the employer to offer additional work, an involuntary termination occurs for purposes of the premium subsidy.

For more answers to questions on COBRA continuation health coverage read the IRS FAQs for employers.

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