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When to Update Your Employer-Based Health Plan

Notify your employer after key life events to adjust your insurance coverage

By Department of Labor | May 16, 2012

To be sure that you and your dependents have adequate health care coverage,  it's good to understand your health care rights and options at each life stage.  Check that you have the appropriate type and level of health insurance as your life changes.

Common life events that affect health insurance needs for those 50 and older include marriage, divorce, children becoming adults and the death of a spouse.

If You Marry

What You Need to Know: Get all the details on your spouse's plan, and be sure you understand how it works. You'll want to know the amounts of any deductibles or copays you will be required to pay and what you will pay for premiums. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), you may be entitled to add yourself, a new spouse and children to your employer's plan or to your spouse's employer's plan under a special enrollment period.

What You Need to Do: To qualify for the special enrollment period, you must notify the plan and request special enrollment for everyone enrolling within 30 days of your marriage. Your plan may require that the notice be in writing, and that is usually the safest course of action anyway. If your spouse has health coverage available, compare the health benefits, cost, and options under both plans, then decide which one works best for you.

If Your Child Is No Longer a Dependent

What You Need to Know: Once your child "ages out" under your health care plan's rules, the child may be eligible to purchase temporary extended health care coverage for up to 36 months under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). Generally, COBRA covers group health plans maintained by employers with 20 or more employees.

What You Need to Do: Once your covered child is no longer a dependent, notify your employer in writing within 60 days. In turn, your plan should notify your child of his or her right to extend health care benefits under COBRA. Your child will have 60 days from the date the notice was sent to elect COBRA coverage. The cost will be higher, since the employer will no longer pay a portion, but it is usually less than the cost of individual coverage.

If You Are Separated, Divorced or Widowed

What You Need to Know: When an employee covered under an employer-sponsored health plan dies, legally separates or divorces, the covered spouse and dependent children may be eligible to purchase temporary extended health coverage for up to 36 months. The cost will be higher, since the employer will no longer pay a portion, but it is usually less than the cost of coverage they might obtain on their own.

If the spouse losing coverage under the plan has a health plan available through his or her employer, the spouse and any dependents may be eligible to obtain coverage through special enrollment.

If the covered employee dies or in the event of a legal separation or divorce, the plan should notify the covered spouse and dependent children of their right to purchase extended health care coverage under COBRA. Most plans require eligible individuals to make their COBRA election of coverage within 60 days of the plan's notice.

What You Need to Do: Should the employee who is covered by the health care plan die, the employer must notify the plan within 30 days. If there is a divorce or legal separation, the covered employee, spouse, or dependent children must notify the plan in writing within 60 days. In case of death of the covered employee, divorce, or legal separation, the plan should notify the eligible spouse and dependent children who would lose coverage under the plan of their right to purchase temporary extended health care coverage. Most plans require eligible individuals to make their COBRA election within 60 days of the plan's notice.

If the spouse losing coverage under the plan has a health plan available through his or her employer, the spouse and dependent children may be eligible for a special enrollment under that plan. To qualify, the spouse must notify that plan and request special enrollment within 30 days of the loss of coverage.

For More Information

The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) administers several important health benefit laws governing your employer-provided health plan – how it works, how you qualify for benefits, your basic rights to information, and how to make claims for benefits. In addition, there are specific laws protecting your right to health benefits when you lose coverage or change jobs. EBSA also oversees health care laws covering special medical conditions.

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