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Feds: COBRA notices can explain health exchange system

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Obama administration officials are encouraging employers to use COBRA health coverage continuation notices to tell young adults about the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange system.

Related: Remember the WARN Act

In May 2013, the U.S. Labor Department published a technical release, or informal batch of advice, that included a model COBRA notice for the ACA era. The new version gave some information about the exchange system. 

Related: What can the boss tell workers about the exchanges?

Employers can still use the May 2013 model, according to a new batch of informal advice prepared by officials at the Labor Department, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Treasury Department.

Employers can keep using that model until regulators put new COBRA notice rules into effect, officials say.

Employers can also go beyond what’s in the May 2013 model and give the recipients, including young adults, more information about the ACA exchange system, officials say.

“We encourage plan administrators to consider how they can help individuals maintain the coverage that would best suit their needs,” officials say. “COBRA election notices may be tailored to particular groups like young adults aging out of dependent coverage on their parents’ health plan.”


Congress created the group health benefits continuation program with a provision in the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, or COBRA for short.

The COBRA provision lets many workers who are leaving an employer, and a departing worker’s spouse, children and other dependents, pay to continue group health coverage.

An employer can charge an enrollee who continues group health coverage an amount equal to the group health premium, along with a 2 percent administrative fee, to keep the coverage.

Because the cost for former employees and their dependents is so high, continuation coverage appears to be more popular with departing enrollees who have serious health problems and feel a strong need to continue to use the same doctors and hospitals.

Before the ACA exchange system came along, some healthy people who left group health plans bought inexpensive short-term health insurance rather than continuing their group health coverage.

Related: Reforms Dry Up Temporary Health Ins.

Since 2014, when the exchange system started up, short-term health insurance issuers have been competing with short-term health insurance issuers for the business of people eligible for continuation benefits. 

Related: PPACA hasn’t killed COBRA — yet

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