President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) into law on March 11, 2021. Along with providing financial relief for individuals, state and local governments, schools, businesses and for other purposes, the law contains the following measures of special interest to employers and their employees:
- A subsidy for COBRA premiums, funded through employer tax credits
- Expansion of subsidy for ACA premiums
- Increase in DCAP contribution limits
Employers should review the ARPA’s provisions to identify any requirements and opportunities that apply to them. Employers are also advised to watch for official guidance on the implementation of the law.
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986 (COBRA) allows employees who would lose employer-sponsored health insurance because of job loss (or a reduction in working hours) to continue that insurance for 18 months. However, the employer can require the employee electing COBRA coverage to pay the entire cost of the premium.
The ARPA provides a 100% subsidy of COBRA premiums from April 1, 2021, through Sept. 30, 2021, for employees and their family members who lost health insurance due to the involuntary termination (or reduction in hours) of their employment. These individuals would be allowed to elect subsidized COBRA even if they had earlier declined the COBRA option, or had enrolled in COBRA and then dropped it. The subsidy would not apply to employees who voluntarily terminated their employment or who qualify for another group health plan.
The subsidy is funded by the federal government through a refundable payroll tax credit. The ARPA contains new employee notice requirements for plan administrators; the U.S. Department of Labor will issue model notices for this purpose. Employees may elect subsidized COBRA any time from April 1, 2021, through 60 days after receiving notice of the benefit.
The ARPA temporarily increases the dollar amount and expands eligibility for federal subsidies for health insurance coverage purchased through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Exchanges. Currently, the ACA’s premium tax credits are not available to individuals with income at or above 400% of the federal poverty level. The ARPA temporarily eliminates this income cap on these subsidies for a period of two years.
The law also:
- Limits the total amount a household would be required to pay for health coverage through the Exchanges to 8.5% of their household income;
- Increases the federal subsidy amounts available for lower-income individuals, eliminating premium costs completely for these individuals in some cases; and
- Includes additional federal funding intended to encourage states that did not previously expand their Medicaid programs to do so now.
These ACA changes are temporary, and will expire after a period of two years.
For taxable years beginning after Dec. 31, 2020, and before Jan. 1, 2022, the ARPA increases the annual contribution limit for a dependent care assistance program (DCAP) from $5,000 to $10,500 (and from $2,500 to $5,250 for married individuals filing taxes separately).
Employers with DCAPs can retroactively amend their plans to incorporate this increase, if:
- The amendment is adopted by the last day of the plan year in which it is effective; and
- The plan operates consistently with the terms of the amendment until it is adopted.
This Compliance Bulletin is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice. ©2021 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.