New Final Cobra Regulations


The Treasury Department published new, final COBRA regulations on February 3, 1999. The final regulations replace previously proposed COBRA regulations published in 1987. The final regulations are in the same "question and answer" format as the 1987 proposed regulations, with slightly different main subject headings and additional specific questions and answers. The seven main subject headings are: COBRA in general; plans that must comply; qualified beneficiaries; qualifying events; COBRA continuation coverage; duration of COBRA continuation coverage; and paying for COBRA continuation coverage. The final regulations apply to qualifying events occurring in plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2000. Until then, plans may rely on good faith interpretations of existing proposed regulations, except where the proposed regulations are inconsistent with later statutory amendments or applicable court decisions. The final regulations generally follow the proposed regulations on who is a qualified beneficiary and what are qualifying events.

One potentially significant change for some small employers are in the rules for counting employees. Employers with fewer than twenty employees are generally exempt from COBRA. Under the new rules, only common-law employees must be counted; the self-employed, independent contractors, and directors are not counted, even if they are covered under the employer's group health plan. However, as before, such persons would be entitled to COBRA continuation coverage if the employer does not meet the small-employer exception and such persons are in fact covered under the employer's group health plan.

The final regulations, together with a preamble summarizing and explaining them, can be found on line at: http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/index.html, by clicking on the "federal register" database and performing a word search for "COBRA."

Internet Access

An EEOC Enforcement Guidance was issued on Reasonable Accommodations and Undue Hardship under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The text is located at:http://www.eeoc.gov/docs/accommodation/html