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Check and double check when (and how) you send out your COBRA notices

Updated: May 9, 2023

There are two very important COBRA notices: the COBRA initial notice (also called the COBRA general notice), and the COBRA election notice. Many employers don’t realize that they must be able to prove that these notices were sent in the correct manner, at the correct time, to the right individuals, and that the required information was included on each notice. Even when an employer uses a COBRA vendor or TPA, many of the requirements are missed, and the responsibility ultimately falls back on the employer. The initial notice tells participants about their COBRA rights and obligations. The general notice must be given by the plan administrator to the covered employee and covered spouse within 90 days of enrolling on the plan. It should not, however, be included in the new hire packet or enrollment guide. The election notice gives qualified beneficiaries information about their rights and obligations when a COBRA qualifying event has been triggered. When a qualifying event occurs, the plan administrator must provide an election notice to each qualified beneficiary (including the covered employee, covered spouse, and any covered dependent child) who has a loss in coverage caused by one of the COBRA qualifying events. The employer must notify  the plan administrator (if using a COBRA vendor or TPA) of the qualifying event within 30 days. The plan administrator must then provide a COBRA election notice within 14 days after notification. However, where the employer is also the plan administrator, a combined period of 44 days to send the election notice is acceptable. It is recommended to send each of these notices to each qualified beneficiary via first-class mail to the last known address, rather than by email or hand delivery. The plan administrator doesn’t have to have proof that it was received, but should be able to show when each notice was sent and hold copies of the actual notices in the event of a complaint or lawsuit. Far too many disputes arise as to whether qualified beneficiaries have been given the initial COBRA notice or COBRA election notice. Sending timely notices, keeping complete and accurate records and proper delivery help reduce potential COBRA errors, litigation, and put the plan in the strongest possible position to defend itself if litigation ever occurs.

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