Monthly Archives: May 2014

How Does COBRA Work With Obamacare?

cobra-240x203Last week, the federal Department of Labor issued proposed regulations dealing with COBRA notices. The regulatory proposal is quite uninteresting: Basically, the administration is removing the model notices from the Code of Federal Regulations and providing them instead on the Department of Labor’s website. This allows the notices to be changed much more quickly and easily, without resort to the federal rulemaking process.

The Labor Department also posted the new model versions of these notices: The general notice employees receive when they sign-up for employer-provided healthcare, and the election notice employees receive when a qualifying event occurs and they have to actually decide whether or not to continue their health insurance through COBRA. (You can find links to both new versions at the DOL’s COBRA Continuation Coverage page.)

The changes to the notices mostly involve Obamacare: specifically, the interface between Obamacare and COBRA. The notices explain that employees (and other beneficiaries) who are losing their employer-provided coverage may continue that coverage for at least 18 months by paying the full premium, pursuant to COBRA. However, employees also have the option of foregoing COBRA coverage and instead buying insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Ordinarily, anyone who wants to buy insurance on the Marketplace must wait for an open enrollment period. One just closed; the next one doesn’t start until mid-November. So what if you get laid off between now and then? The new notices explain that there is a 60-day “special enrollment” period triggered by losing job-based coverage. In other words, a laid-off employee has 60 days to choose a new health plan through the Marketplace; the same 60-day period applies to choosing COBRA coverage.

The new election notice provides some good answers to questions about switching coverage, too:

  • If you choose COBRA coverage, but decide you want to buy through the Marketplace instead, you may do so during the initial 60-day special enrollment period. If you miss this deadline, you’ll have to wait until open enrollment rolls around, just like everyone else (unless you have a second event that triggers a special enrollment period, like having a child).
  • If you choose Marketplace coverage, but decide you should have taken advantage of COBRA, you are out of luck. Once you decline COBRA coverage, it’s gone.
  • Once your COBRA coverage ends, you get another 60-day special enrollment period in which to sign up for Obamacare.

Where Do Employers Get Sued the Most?

USAccording to a very interesting article in the Insurance Journal, employers are most likely to be sued by current or former employees in California, Illinois, Alabama, Mississippi, and the District of Columbia. I’m sure no one is surprised by that first entry on the list: Our great Golden State is famous for its employee-protective laws. The District of Columbia and Illinois both offer plenty of workplace protections as well. In fact, Illinois might be more progressive than California on this score. For example, it recently became the first state (I believe) to prohibit job discrimination against the homeless, by making it illegal for employers to make job decisions based on the fact that an employee does not have a permanent address or uses the address of a shelter or social service provider as a mailing address.

The article features quotes from some lawyers, who pointed to two reasons states made the list: state laws that are very protective of employees (and apply to smaller employers) and state laws that don’t cap damages available to employees (as federal discrimination laws do, for example). All well and good, and quite explanatory of California, Illinois, and DC. But what about Alabama and Mississippi? These states don’t have their own comprehensive discrimination laws (which leaves aggrieved employees to sue under federal law, under which those limits on damages apply). In case you were thinking employers there are facing big wage and hour class action cases, they might be. But only if employees are suing under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, because Alabama and Mississippi also don’t have their own minimum wage or overtime laws. Or their own laws requiring meal and rest breaks. Or state laws requiring family and medical leave.

Of course, employees could be suing under federal laws governing these topics. But that’s true in all 50 states. The article doesn’t explain — and I have no easy answer for — why employees sue more often in Alabama and Mississippi. But if you’re wondering what grounds you might have for a lawsuit in your state, I’ve got an assist for you: Check out our 50-state (plus DC) set of articles over on www.wrongfulterminationlaws.com on state wrongful termination laws.