On May 18, 2021, the IRS released long-awaited guidance regarding the COBRA premium assistance provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). IRS Notice 2021-31 contains 86 questions and answers about the calculation of the credit, the eligibility of individuals, the premium assistance period, and other information vital to employers, plan administrators, and insurers to understand the credit.
Questions and Answers to ARPA COBRA Subsidy Provisions
IRS Notice 2021-31 contains 86 questions and answers related to the administration of the COBRA premium assistance provisions and tax credit. The following are select questions from the new guidance. As the new guidance is quite comprehensive, interested parties are encouraged to review the guidance in its entirety.
Q: Is a qualified beneficiary whose qualifying event is a furlough a potential Assistance Eligible Individual who qualifies for COBRA premium assistance?
A: Yes. In this notice, the term “furlough” means a temporary loss of employment or complete reduction in hours with a reasonable expectation of return to employment or resumption of hours (for example, due to an expected business recovery of the employer) such that the employer and employee intend to maintain the employment relationship. A furlough may be a reduction in hours regardless of whether the employer initiated the furlough, or the individual participated in a furlough process analogous to a window program (see Q&A-29).
Q: What circumstances constitute an involuntary termination of employment for purposes of the definition of an Assistance Eligible Individual?
A: An involuntary termination of employment means a severance from employment due to the independent exercise of the unilateral authority of the employer to terminate the employment, other than due to the employee’s implicit or explicit request, where the employee was willing and able to continue performing services. For application of the involuntary termination of employment standard with respect to the failure to renew an employment agreement or similar contract, see Q&A-34. In addition, an employee-initiated termination of employment constitutes an involuntary termination of employment for purposes of COBRA premium assistance if the termination of employment constitutes a termination for good reason due to employer action that results in a material negative change in the employment relationship for the employee analogous to a constructive discharge.
The determination of whether a termination is involuntary is based on the facts and circumstances. For example, if a termination is designated as voluntary or as a resignation, but the facts and circumstances indicate that the employee was willing and able to continue performing services, so that, absent the voluntary termination, the employer would have terminated the employee’s services, and that the employee had knowledge that the employee would be terminated, the termination is involuntary.
Q: May the employer require individuals to self-certify or attest that they are eligible for COBRA continuation coverage with COBRA premium assistance due to a reduction in hours or involuntary termination of employment and, if so, may the self-certification or attestation be used to assist the employer in substantiating its entitlement to the premium assistance credit?
A: Yes. Employers may require individuals to provide a self-certification or attestation regarding their eligibility status with respect to a reduction in hours or involuntary termination of employment, which may assist the employer in substantiating its entitlement to the credit. Employers are not required to obtain a self-certification or attestation; however, employers who claim the credit must retain in their records either a self-certification or attestation from the individual regarding the individual’s eligibility status, or other documentation to substantiate that the individual was eligible for the COBRA premium assistance (see Q&A-7; see also Q&A-84).
Q: Is COBRA premium assistance available for COBRA continuation coverage under a vision-only or dental-only plan?
A: Yes. COBRA premium assistance is available for COBRA continuation coverage of any group health plan, except a health FSA under § 106(c) offered under a § 125 cafeteria plan. Group health plans include vision-only and dental-only plans, regardless of whether the employer pays for a portion of the premiums for active employees. COBRA premium assistance is not available for continuation coverage offered by employers for non-health benefits that are not subject to Federal COBRA continuation coverage requirements, such as group-term life insurance. (See Q&A-55 regarding eligibility for COBRA continuation coverage for distinct benefit options).
Employers and plan administrators should review the guidance to determine if any action is needed.
Thank you for choosing Paylocity as your Payroll Tax and HCM partner. This information is provided as a courtesy, may change, and is not intended as legal or tax guidance. Employers with questions or concerns outside the scope of a Payroll Service Provider are encouraged to seek the advice of a qualified CPA, Tax Attorney or Advisor.