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ARRA, CHIPRA Create Employer Notice Headaches

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Employers will have to rush to comply with notice provisions and other provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act.

Benefits compliance advisors and outsourcing firms are sending bulletins warning employers to get to work on accommodating the changes.

Corporate Synergies Inc., Mount Laurel, N.J., notes that employers will have to try to make many significant changes included in ARRA by March 1.

ARRA, also known as the economic stimulus bill, will require the government to subsidize laid-off employees’ purchases of Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation health coverage continuation benefits by paying 65% of the premiums.

Employees will have to pay 35% of the premiums, but employers or plan administrators will have to administer the subsidy program.

In addition to providing subsidies for newly laid-off workers, ARRA creates a second chance for individuals to elect COBRA benefits for those who recently declined continuation coverage, Corporate Synergies says.

Another ARRA provision increases the transit pass limit to $230.

Employers will have to make employees aware of the transit pass limit increase by March 1, and they also will have to use notices and inserts to let workers and laid-off workers know about the new COBRA subsidy, Corporate Synergies says.

“To manage the federal [COBRA] subsidy, you will need to have a way of tracking the total COBRA premiums less the subsidy,” Corporate Synergies writes. “This tracking report will be used to calculate how much to reduce your employment taxes.”

COBRA support firms will handle the changes for employers that use COBRA firms, but employers that handle COBRA themselves will have to look out for model notices and other guidance coming from the U.S. Labor Department, the U.S. Treasury Department, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the coming weeks, Corporate Synergies says.

“For employers, the new COBRA subsidy law will increase the administrative and communication costs for all plan sponsors and will raise the costs of group health coverage for those employers who involuntarily terminated employees between Sept. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009,” according to Tom Lerche, a health care practice leader in the consulting arm at Aon Corp., Chicago.

The size of the cost increase will depend on the number of employees who were let go and the COBRA costs for that particular employer, Lerche says.

In addition, employers and employees should research all options and stay open to the possibility that, for some employees, buying individual health insurance still may be a better option for some laid-off employees, Lerche says.

CHIPRA also will affect employers, especially in states that subsidize parents’ purchase of group coverage for their children, according to Larry Grudzien, a benefits lawyer.

In addition to letting

The new law also requires employer-provided group health plans and insurers to permit employees and their dependents that are eligible for coverage but not enrolled in coverage but not enrolled under the plan to enroll if they become ineligible for coverage under Medicaid or a SCHIP.

Besides these new additional special enrollment rights, the law provides new notice and disclosure obligations for employers that maintain group


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