Is COBRA Coverage Relevant After the Opening of the Exchanges?
The short answer is yes. While I get this question a lot from clients, Health Care Reform did not change the COBRA requirements. The DOL must want to ensure we understand COBRA is still relevant because earlier this month it released a new model COBRA election notice. The new model notice includes significant changes from the prior version and includes pages of information relating to the new marketplaces (the new name the government gave the exchanges after the exchange rollouts were receiving such bad press). Oh wait, maybe the DOL just released this new notice to provide free advertising for the exchanges. Hmmmm. Regardless of the DOL’s reasoning, plan administrators are still required to give a COBRA election notice when a qualified beneficiary has a COBRA qualifying event. Plan administrators are not required to use the DOL model COBRA notices, but any plan administrator who uses the model notice (tailored for specific plan provisions) will be deemed to have provided a compliant COBRA notice (assuming that it is timely provided when required). The penalties for failing to provide a COBRA notice can be steep so make sure you provide the notices when required even if you “know” the employee is not going to elect COBRA.