Eliminating Dependent Coverage? COBRA Rules, and the Employer Shared Responsibility Provision

Insurance coverage

With healthcare premiums continuously increasing year over year, many employers are searching for options to help reduce their benefit costs. A seemingly quick fix would be to eliminate dependent coverage, but you may want to consider eliminating dependent contribution rather than not offering coverage at all.

First and foremost, the circumstances are different for Small Groups in comparison to Applicable Large Employers. If you are considered an ALE, with 51 or more full time equivalent employees, then you are required to offer dependent coverage by law, or you may face an employer shared responsibility penalty. Please note that the definition for Small Group plans has been expanded to include up to 100 employees, so it is possible to be an Applicable Large Employer and still offer Small Group plans (51-100 employee size). Per the Affordable Care Act, and the ‘pay or play’ provision, the definition of ‘dependent’ only applies to children under the age of 26. Spouses are not considered dependents, nor are step children or foster children.

There are two types of penalties you may face if you do not offer proper coverage as an ALE.

  • If you DO NOT offer minimum essential coverage to at least 95% of your full time equivalent employees and their dependents then you may face a penalty if at least one of your employees obtains premium assistance from the public marketplace (Covered CA). If just one of your employees receives premium assistance, then you are liable for a $2,000 penalty for each employee, after the first 30 employees. [Total employees – 30, multiplied by $2,000]
  • If you DO offer minimum essential coverage to at least 95% of your full time equivalent employees and their dependents, then you may still be imposed a penalty if any employee receives premium assistance from the marketplace. If coverage is offered, but turns out to be unaffordable (more than 9.66% of household income), the employee has the option to purchase coverage and receive premium assistance. The employer in this instance will be penalized $3,000 for each employee that receives the premium tax credit.

If you are considered a Small Employer with 50 or less full time equivalent employees, then it is not a requirement for you to offer dependent coverage. If you elect to eliminate dependent coverage at renewal altogether, then you do not need to offer COBRA since terminating or amending the group health plan does not constitute a listed triggering event.

Dependents are only offered COBRA if:

  • Employment is terminated
  • Employee hours are reduced
  • Employee passes away, divorces, or legally separates
  • Employee obtains Medicare
  • Loss of dependent child status

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