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Electronic Code of Federal Regulations

e-CFR Data is current as of December 16, 2014

Title 26Chapter ISubchapter DPart 54 → §54.4980b-8


Title 26: Internal Revenue
PART 54—PENSION EXCISE TAXES


§54.4980B-8   Paying for COBRA continuation coverage.

The following questions-and-answers address paying for COBRA continuation coverage:

Q-1: Can a group health plan require payment for COBRA continuation coverage?

A-1: (a) Yes. For any period of COBRA continuation coverage, a group health plan can require the payment of an amount that does not exceed 102 percent of the applicable premium for that period. (See paragraph (b) of this Q&A-1 for a rule permitting a plan to require payment of an increased amount due to the disability extension.) The applicable premium is defined in section 4980B(f)(4). A group health plan can terminate a qualified beneficiary's COBRA continuation coverage as of the first day of any period for which timely payment is not made to the plan with respect to that qualified beneficiary (see Q&A-1 of §54.4980B-7). For the meaning of timely payment, see Q&A-5 of this section.

(b) A group health plan is permitted to require the payment of an amount that does not exceed 150 percent of the applicable premium for any period of COBRA continuation coverage covering a disabled qualified beneficiary (for example, whether single or family coverage) if the coverage would not be required to be made available in the absence of a disability extension. (See Q&A-5 of §54.4980B-7 for rules to determine whether a qualified beneficiary is entitled to a disability extension.) A plan is not permitted to require the payment of an amount that exceeds 102 percent of the applicable premium for any period of COBRA continuation coverage to which a qualified beneficiary is entitled without regard to the disability extension. Thus, if a qualified beneficiary entitled to a disability extension experiences a second qualifying event within the original 18-month maximum coverage period, then the plan is not permitted to require the payment of an amount that exceeds 102 percent of the applicable premium for any period of COBRA continuation coverage. By contrast, if a qualified beneficiary entitled to a disability extension experiences a second qualifying event after the end of the original 18-month maximum coverage period, then the plan may require the payment of an amount that is up to 150 percent of the applicable premium for the remainder of the period of COBRA continuation coverage (that is, from the beginning of the 19th month through the end of the 36th month) as long as the disabled qualified beneficiary is included in that coverage. The rules of this paragraph (b) are illustrated by the following examples; in each example the group health plan is subject to COBRA:

Example 1. (i) An employer maintains a group health plan. The plan determines the cost of covering individuals under the plan by reference to two categories, individual coverage and family coverage, and the applicable premium is determined for those two categories. An employee and members of the employee's family are covered under the plan. The employee experiences a qualifying event that is the termination of the employee's employment. The employee's family qualifies for the disability extension because of the disability of the employee's spouse. (Timely notice of the disability is provided to the plan administrator.) Timely payment of the amount required by the plan for COBRA continuation coverage for the family (which does not exceed 102 percent of the cost of family coverage under the plan) was made to the plan with respect to the employee's family for the first 18 months of COBRA continuation coverage, and the disabled spouse and the rest of the family continue to receive COBRA continuation coverage through the 29th month.

(ii) Under these facts, the plan may require payment of up to 150 percent of the applicable premium for family coverage in order for the family to receive COBRA continuation coverage from the 19th month through the 29th month. If the plan determined the cost of coverage by reference to three categories (such as employee, employee-plus-one-dependent, employee-plus-two-or-more-dependents) or more than three categories, instead of two categories, the plan could still require, from the 19th month through the 29th month of COBRA continuation coverage, the payment of 150 percent of the cost of coverage for the category of coverage that included the disabled spouse.

Example 2. (i) The facts are the same as in Example 1, except that only the covered employee elects and pays for the first 18 months of COBRA continuation coverage.

(ii) Even though the employee's disabled spouse does not elect or pay for COBRA continuation coverage, the employee satisfies the requirements for the disability extension to apply with respect to the employee's qualifying event. Under these facts, the plan may not require the payment of more than 102 percent of the applicable premium for individual coverage for the entire period of the employee's COBRA continuation coverage, including the period from the 19th month through the 29th month. If COBRA continuation coverage had been elected and paid for with respect to other nondisabled members of the employee's family, then the plan could not require the payment of more than 102 percent of the applicable premium for family coverage (or for any other appropriate category of coverage that might apply to that group of qualified beneficiaries under the plan, such as employee-plus-one-dependent or employee-plus-two-or-more-dependents) for those family members to continue their coverage from the 19th month through the 29th month.

(c) A group health plan does not fail to comply with section 9802(b) (which generally prohibits an individual from being charged, on the basis of health status, a higher premium than that charged for similarly situated individuals enrolled in the plan) with respect to a qualified beneficiary entitled to the disability extension merely because the plan requires payment of an amount permitted under paragraph (b) of this Q&A-1.

Q-2: When is the applicable premium determined and when can a group health plan increase the amount it requires to be paid for COBRA continuation coverage?

A-2: (a) The applicable premium for each determination period must be computed and fixed by a group health plan before the determination period begins. A determination period is any 12-month period selected by the plan, but it must be applied consistently from year to year. The determination period is a single period for any benefit package. Thus, each qualified beneficiary does not have a separate determination period beginning on the date (or anniversaries of the date) that COBRA continuation coverage begins for that qualified beneficiary.

(b) During a determination period, a plan can increase the amount it requires to be paid for a qualified beneficiary's COBRA continuation coverage only in the following three cases:

(1) The plan has previously charged less than the maximum amount permitted under Q&A-1 of this section and the increased amount required to be paid does not exceed the maximum amount permitted under Q&A-1 of this section;

(2) The increase occurs during the disability extension and the increased amount required to be paid does not exceed the maximum amount permitted under paragraph (b) of Q&A-1 of this section; or

(3) A qualified beneficiary changes the coverage being received (see paragraph (c) of this Q&A-2 for rules on how the amount the plan requires to be paid may or must change when a qualified beneficiary changes the coverage being received).

(c) If a plan allows similarly situated active employees who have not experienced a qualifying event to change the coverage they are receiving, then the plan must also allow each qualified beneficiary to change the coverage being received on the same terms as the similarly situated active employees. (See Q&A-4 in §54.4980B-5.) If a qualified beneficiary changes coverage from one benefit package (or a group of benefit packages) to another benefit package (or another group of benefit packages), or adds or eliminates coverage for family members, then the following rules apply. If the change in coverage is to a benefit package, group of benefit packages, or coverage unit (such as family coverage, self-plus-one-dependent, or self-plus-two-or-more-dependents) for which the applicable premium is higher, then the plan may increase the amount that it requires to be paid for COBRA continuation coverage to an amount that does not exceed the amount permitted under Q&A-1 of this section as applied to the new coverage. If the change in coverage is to a benefit package, group of benefit packages, or coverage unit (such as individual or self-plus-one-dependent) for which the applicable premium is lower, then the plan cannot require the payment of an amount that exceeds the amount permitted under Q&A-1 of this section as applied to the new coverage.

Q-3: Must a plan allow payment for COBRA continuation coverage to be made in monthly installments?

A-3: Yes. A group health plan must allow payment for COBRA continuation coverage to be made in monthly installments. A group health plan is permitted to also allow the alternative of payment for COBRA continuation coverage being made at other intervals (for example, weekly, quarterly, or semiannually).

Q-4: Is a plan required to allow a qualified beneficiary to choose to have the first payment for COBRA continuation coverage applied prospectively only?

A-4: No. A plan is permitted to apply the first payment for COBRA continuation coverage to the period of coverage beginning immediately after the date on which coverage under the plan would have been lost on account of the qualifying event. Of course, if the group health plan allows a qualified beneficiary to waive COBRA continuation coverage for any period before electing to receive COBRA continuation coverage, the first payment is not applied to the period of the waiver.

Q-5: What is timely payment for COBRA continuation coverage?

A-5: (a) Except as provided in this paragraph (a) or in paragraph (b) or (d) of this Q&A-5, timely payment for a period of COBRA continuation coverage under a group health plan means payment that is made to the plan by the date that is 30 days after the first day of that period. Payment that is made to the plan by a later date is also considered timely payment if either—

(1) Under the terms of the plan, covered employees or qualified beneficiaries are allowed until that later date to pay for their coverage for the period; or

(2) Under the terms of an arrangement between the employer or employee organization and an insurance company, health maintenance organization, or other entity that provides plan benefits on the employer's or employee organization's behalf, the employer or employee organization is allowed until that later date to pay for coverage of similarly situated nonCOBRA beneficiaries for the period.

(b) Notwithstanding paragraph (a) of this Q&A-5, a plan cannot require payment for any period of COBRA continuation coverage for a qualified beneficiary earlier than 45 days after the date on which the election of COBRA continuation coverage is made for that qualified beneficiary.

(c) If, after COBRA continuation coverage has been elected for a qualified beneficiary, a provider of health care (such as a physician, hospital, or pharmacy) contacts the plan to confirm coverage of a qualified beneficiary for a period for which the plan has not yet received payment, the plan must give a complete response to the health care provider about the qualified beneficiary's COBRA continuation coverage rights, if any, described in paragraphs (a), (b), and (d) of this Q&A-5. For example, if the plan provides coverage during the 30- and 45-day grace periods described in paragraphs (a) and (b) of this Q&A-5 but cancels coverage retroactively if payment is not made by the end of the applicable grace period, then the plan must inform a provider with respect to a qualified beneficiary for whom payment has not been received that the qualified beneficiary is covered but that the coverage is subject to retroactive termination if timely payment is not made. Similarly, if the plan cancels coverage if it has not received payment by the first day of a period of coverage but retroactively reinstates coverage if payment is made by the end of the grace period for that period of coverage, then the plan must inform the provider that the qualified beneficiary currently does not have coverage but will have coverage retroactively to the first date of the period if timely payment is made. (See paragraph (b) of Q&A-3 in §54.4980B-6 for similar rules that the plan must follow in confirming coverage during the election period.)

(d) If timely payment is made to the plan in an amount that is not significantly less than the amount the plan requires to be paid for a period of coverage, then the amount paid is deemed to satisfy the plan's requirement for the amount that must be paid, unless the plan notifies the qualified beneficiary of the amount of the deficiency and grants a reasonable period of time for payment of the deficiency to be made. For this purpose, as a safe harbor, 30 days after the date the notice is provided is deemed to be a reasonable period of time. An amount is not significantly less than the amount the plan requires to be paid for a period of coverage if and only if the shortfall is no greater than the lesser of the following two amounts:

(1) Fifty dollars (or such other amount as the Commissioner may provide in a revenue ruling, notice, or other guidance published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin (see §601.601(d)(2)(ii) of this chapter)); or

(2) 10 percent of the amount the plan requires to be paid.

(e) Payment is considered made on the date on which it is sent to the plan.

[T.D. 8812, 64 FR 5186, Feb. 3, 1999, as amended by T.D. 8928, 66 FR 1854, Jan. 10, 2001]



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