Yes, but only for a limited time. In late December 2009, Congress passed the 2010 Defense Appropriations Act (2010 Defense Act). The new law temporarily extends the eligibility period for COBRA premium assistance through February 28, 2010 and the duration of the subsidy for an additional six months (up to 15 months).

Reduced premiums
Individuals who are involuntarily separated from employment between September 1, 2008 and February 28, 2010 may be able to make reduced premium payments for COBRA continuation coverage. Instead of paying the full monthly premium, assistance eligible individuals pay 35 percent of the premium and their former employers pay the remaining 65 percent of the premium. The former employer is reimbursed by a payroll tax credit.

Originally, Congress set a December 31, 2009 deadline for eligibility for COBRA premium assistance. The 2010 Defense Act extended the deadline for eligibility to February 28, 2010. The 2010 Defense Act also extended the maximum period for receiving the subsidy an additional six months (from nine to 15 months).

In some cases, an individual may have exhausted his or her nine months of COBRA premium assistance before Congress approved the extension. The 2010 Defense Act provides an extended period for the retroactive payment of the individual’s 35 percent payment. To continue coverage, the assistance eligible individual must pay the 35 percent of premium costs by February 17, 2010 or, if later, 30 days after notice of the extension is provided by their plan administrator.

In other cases, an individual may have exhausted his or her nine months of COBRA premium assistance and paid 100 percent of the COBRA premium for December. Individuals who paid the full COBRA premium in December are entitled to a refund under the 2010 Defense Act.

Individuals who qualify for COBRA premium assistance are automatically eligible to pay reduced premiums for up to six more months for a total of 15 months. The individual must continue to be eligible for the subsidy. If he or she becomes eligible for other group health coverage (such as a spouse’s plan) or Medicare the individual is no longer eligible for COBRA premium assistance.

Income limits
Higher-income individuals may qualify for COBRA premium assistance but find they have to repay it. If an individual’s modified adjusted gross income for the tax year in which the premium assistance is received exceeds $145,000 (or $290,000 for married couples filing a joint return), the amount of the subsidy during the tax year must be repaid. For taxpayers with adjusted gross income between $125,000 and $145,000 (or $250,000 and $290,000 for married couples filing a joint return), the amount of the premium reduction that must be repaid is reduced proportionately.
Higher-income individuals may permanently waive the right to COBRA premium assistance. However, they may not later obtain the subsidy if their adjusted gross incomes end up below the limits. We can help you decide which option is best.

Possible extension
Many lawmakers in Congress support extending eligibility for COBRA premium assistance beyond February 28, 2010. In fact, the House of Representatives approved a bill in December extending eligibility through June 30, 2010. However, the Senate has yet to vote on the bill.