‘Tis the season for not only the holidays, but many employers are in the midst of open enrollment. There’s so much to think about that it’s easy to forget important tasks, like notifying COBRA participants.
Have you sent COBRA open enrollment kits notifying your COBRA participants* of the new plan options and rates?
If “Ummm….what?” is your first thought, keep reading……
COBRA regulations provide that COBRA participants (i.e. qualified beneficiaries) have the same health insurance rights during open enrollment as their former employer’s active employees. So although, a qualified beneficiary was only entitled to continue the coverage in place immediately before the qualifying event, COBRA participants at open enrollment may:
- Add/drop coverage
- Add/drop dependents
- Switch from one group health plan to another
- Switch to another benefit package within the same plan
to the same extent that similarly situated active employees can.
Therefore, COBRA participants must also receive an open enrollment packet containing not only any updated information about the plans and changes to rates but also all required open enrollment disclosures.
Avoid a Common Pitfall
Many employers use a COBRA administrator and believe they automatically send all required notices on their behalf. However, COBRA open enrollment packets are generally an opt-in service, often for an additional fee. Ultimately it is the employer who is responsible for ensuring participants receive the information, so it is worth reaching out to your COBRA administrator if you are not sure whether they’ve been sent.
While open enrollment may be winding down for many, don’t be caught off guard. To be compliant, it’s important that employers, remember to notify COBRA participants of open enrollment, as if they are active employees. Employers who fail to communicate open enrollment options to COBRA participants, may be exposed to legal action, including expensive lawsuits and penalties.
*For the purposes of Open Enrollment, COBRA Participants are individuals currently enrolled and paying for COBRA, individuals in their 60-day election period, and individuals who have elected, but not yet paid for, COBRA.