COBRA Notice Regs Finalized

May 25, 2004 ( - The U. S. Department of Labor (DoL) on Tuesday released final rules governing health-care coverage notices under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).

The final rules, which are similar to a proposed version released in May 2003, set minimum standards for the timing and contents of the COBRA notices.   These rules also provide model notices to be used by group health plans. Under COBRA, most group health plans must give employees and their families the chance to stay in their group health after termination of employment, divorce or death.  

“These rules will make sure workers and their families understand their rights under COBRA and make it easier for employers and plan officials to meet their notice obligations.   We want to make sure that individuals do not lose their group health coverage because they lack information about the steps to take to protect those rights,” said Ann Combs, assistant secretary of labor for the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), in a news release.

In order to give plans enough time to modify their notice procedures, the new rules will be effective the first plan year that begins six months after publication in the Federal Register.   Before then, plans may rely on either the proposed rules or the final rules (including the model forms as proposed or as finalized) to meet their COBRA obligations.

Model notices will be available from EBSA’s Web site at . The final regulations are outlined in the  May 26, 2004 Federal Register  and will be available on EBSA’s Web site.

More general COBRA information is at .