The following information is from the United States Department of Labor’s web site. Since this COBRA article (or booklet, as the article refers to it) from dol.gov has an abundance of information, we will break the article up into sections over the next couple of weeks. We hope that you find the information valuable.
An Employee’s Guide to Health Benefits Under COBRA – The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act
Note: This publication contains information about the COBRA premium reduction provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). This publication has not been updated for recent amendments made to ARRA. For updated information on ARRA and its amendments, please see the COBRA Premium Reduction Fact Sheet.
Health Coverage Tax Credit
Certain individuals may be eligible for a Federal income tax credit that can alleviate the financial burden of monthly COBRA premium payments. The Trade Adjustment Assistance Act of 2002 (Trade Act of 2002) created the Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC), an advanceable, refundable tax credit for up to 65 percent of the premiums paid for specified types of health insurance coverage (including COBRA continuation coverage). The HCTC is available to certain workers who lose their jobs due to the effects of international trade and who qualify for trade adjustment assistance (TAA), as well as to certain individuals who are receiving pension payments from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). Individuals who are eligible for the HCTC may choose to have the amount of the credit paid on a monthly basis to their health coverage provider as it becomes due, or may claim the tax credit on their income tax returns at the end of the year.
The Trade Adjustment Assistance Health Coverage Improvement Act of 2009, enacted as part of ARRA, made changes to the HCTC.
The HCTC now pays a greater portion of your health insurance. The tax credit has increased to 80 percent of qualified health insurance premiums. The 80 percent tax credit began in May 2009. Newly-enrolled participants can receive a credit on their HCTC accounts for qualified payments made while enrolling in the HCTC Program.
The HCTC is available to your family members for a longer period of time beginning in January 2010. Your family may continue receiving the HCTC for up to 24 months after you, the primary eligible individual, enroll in Medicare, get divorced or die.
COBRA coverage also is temporarily extended for HCTC-eligible individuals. TAA-eligible individuals can keep COBRA coverage as long as they continue to be TAA-eligible, however COBRA provisions only cover 65% of the cost.
PBGC-eligible individuals may be able to retain their COBRA coverage until death. The PBGC-eligible individual’s spouse and dependents can keep the coverage for an additional 24 months beyond that. However, note that this provision, like the rest of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Health Coverage Improvement Act, expires on December 31, 2010. At the time of this printing, these changes to the HCTC – including the new timeframes for extended benefits – are only valid through December 31, 2010.
Electing the COBRA premium reduction disqualifies you for the HCTC. If you are eligible for the HCTC, which could be more valuable than the premium reduction, you will have received a notification from the IRS.
For more information about the Health Coverage Tax Credit, call the HCTC Customer Contact Center at 1.866.628.HCTC (4282) (TDD/TTY: 1.866.626.HCTC (4282)). You may also visit the HCTC Web site.
Coordination with Other Federal Benefit Laws
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires an employer to maintain coverage under any “group health plan” for an employee on FMLA leave under the same conditions coverage would have been provided if the employee had continued working. Group health coverage that is provided under the FMLA during a family or medical leave is NOT COBRA continuation coverage, and taking FMLA leave is not a qualifying event under COBRA. A COBRA qualifying event may occur, however, when an employer’s obligation to maintain health benefits under FMLA ceases, such as when an employee taking FMLA leave decides not to return to work and notifies an employer of his or her intent not to return to work.
In considering whether to elect continuation coverage, you should take into account that maintaining group health coverage affects your future rights to protections provided under HIPAA. HIPAA limits the length of any preexisting condition exclusion that a group health plan may impose and generally requires any exclusion period to be reduced by an individual’s number of days of creditable coverage that occurred without a break in coverage of 63 days or more. For this purpose, most health coverage, including COBRA coverage, is creditable coverage. Electing COBRA may help you avoid a 63-day break in coverage and, therefore, help you eliminate or shorten any future preexisting condition exclusion period that may be applied by a future group health plan, health insurance company, or HMO.
HIPAA also provides special enrollment rights upon the loss of group health plan coverage and rights to buy individual coverage that does not impose a preexisting condition exclusion period as described earlier in this book (See “Alternatives to COBRA Continuation Coverage”).
To take advantage of some of HIPAA’s protections, individuals must show evidence of prior creditable coverage. The primary way individuals can evidence prior creditable coverage to reduce a preexisting condition exclusion period (or to gain other access to individual health coverage) is with a certificate of creditable coverage. HIPAA requires group health plans, health insurance companies, and HMOs to furnish a certificate of creditable coverage to an individual upon cessation of coverage. A certificate of creditable coverage must be provided automatically to individuals entitled to elect COBRA continuation coverage no later than when a notice is required to be provided for a qualifying event under COBRA, and to individuals who elected COBRA coverage, either within a reasonable time after learning that the COBRA coverage has ceased or within a reasonable time after the end of the grace period for payment of COBRA premiums. If you do not receive or you lose your certificate and cannot obtain another, you can still show prior coverage using other evidence of prior health coverage (for example, pay stubs, copies of premium payments, or other evidence of health care coverage). For more information about evidencing prior health coverage or your rights under HIPAA, contact EBSA toll free at 1-866-444-EBSA (3272).
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