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Spencer's Benefits Reports COBRA Survey Finds Recession Takes Hold: More Were Eligible, Fewer Signed Up, Costs Stay High
Date:6/10/2009

ged $10,988 per year per participant for employers, about 32 percent higher than five years ago when it was $8,353.

The $10,988 compared to an average annual cost for active employees of $7,190, making coverage for COBRA 54 percent more costly than that for active employees.

"Because COBRA beneficiaries must pay for the high cost of COBRA coverage, the trend of sicker beneficiaries choosing the coverage is not surprising," Huth said. "In addition, although we talk about 'average' costs, the costs actually vary wildly from one company to the next for all but the largest employers. In part, this is because the low incidence of COBRA elections in any one company makes COBRA operate more like individual health insurance rather than like group insurance. Thus, providing COBRA coverage for most employers is much like rolling dice."

Costs Seen as Main Problems

The survey also examined what employers identified as the primary difficulties with the COBRA law. Not surprisingly, the top two concerns were cost. Employers indicated that the number-one concern is their own cost, followed by the fact that beneficiaries can't afford the coverage. Other leading concerns included complexity of rules and laws; recently enacted COBRA expansions; and difficulties in collecting premiums.

"Concern with the cost of COBRA to employees hardly registered as a problem before 2002, but since then it has been at or near the top of the list," said Huth. "Of course, if many healthy employees feel they can't afford coverage, the cost of COBRA to employers rises as the covered population tends to be sicker. It will be interesting to see if the new 65-percent subsidy increases the percentage of people signing up for COBRA, or keeps them on COBRA longer."

However, Huth also noted there are still positive aspects of COBRA that should not be overlooked.

"COBRA has provided substantial
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SOURCE Wolters Kluwer Law & Business
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