Will Your COBRA Notice Come Back to Bite You?


 

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Employers should pay close attention to whether they are complying with the health care continuation (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) notification requirements, or risk being added to the list of companies involved in lawsuits.

A Jan. 17 proposed class action lawsuit accuses Marriott’s COBRA notice of hindering their ability to obtain coverage by failing to provide its workers with all required health insurance coverage information (Vazquez v. Marriott Int'l Inc., M.D. Fla., No. 8:17-cv-00116, complaint filed 1/17/17). 

Marriot joins companies like The American Bottling Co., BB&T Co., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and software developer Shipcom Wireless Inc, all of whom are currently involved in COBRA notification requirement lawsuits.

Under COBRA, companies with 20 employees or more that sponsor a health plan must provide employees with an initial notice and additional notices upon the occurrence of a qualifying event.

The initial notice must be provided within 90 days of the later of the date the employee’s group health plan coverage began or the date the plan became subject to COBRA.

The initial general notice informs the employee and their beneficiaries of the availability of continuation coverage if a qualifying event occurs and the rights and obligations of COBRA coverage.

The election notice must be given to employees within 14 days of the plan administrator's receipt of notice of the qualifying event or within 44 days of the date the qualifying event occurred, if the employer is also the plan administrator.

Under 29 C.F.R. §2590.606-4, a COBRA election notice must include many specific things.  The Department of Labor maintains a model election notice on its website, use of which is not mandatory but is considered good-faith compliance.  

A COBRA election notice must include: 

  • name and contact information for the plan and plan administrator;
  • identification of the qualifying event;
  • explanation of who is entitled to coverage;
  • plan termination date unless continuation coverage is elected;
  • who may elect coverage, how they may elect it and when they must elect it by;
  • explanation of the consequences of failing to elect or waiving continuation coverage;
  • description of available continuing coverage and availability date;
  • description of possible continuation coverage extensions;
  • cost and payment information;
  • statement on keeping plan administrator apprised of current addresses for all qualified beneficiaries; and
  • specific information for qualified beneficiaries, for qualifying events resulting in coverage offered for less than 36 months.

See related story, Marriott Hit With Class Action Alleging Flawed COBRA Notices.

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