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Reservists Being Called to Active Duty

I am being called to active duty and have questions about my employer provided pension and health benefits.  Where can I get more information about my benefits?

The Department of Labor's Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) has information for veterans, National Guard or reservists who may be activated for military service.  National Guard and reserve members called to active duty, and their civilian employers, have certain rights and responsibilities under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).  VETS has developed a fact sheet and an interactive computer program, the USERRA Advisor, which address the rights and responsibilities of individuals and their employers under the law.  These tools, and other USERRA information, can be found on the VETS web site.

My family had health coverage through my employer when I was called for active duty in the military.  What are my rights to health coverage now?

If you are on active duty for more than 30 days, you and your dependents should be covered by military health care. For more information on these programs contact your military unit.

In addition, two laws protect your right to continue health coverage under an employment-based group health plan.  The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) provides health coverage continuation rights to employees and their families after an event such as reduction in employment hours.  The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) is intended to minimize the disadvantages that occur when a person needs to be absent from civilian employment to serve in the uniformed services.  Both COBRA and USERRA generally allow individuals called for active duty to continue coverage for themselves and their dependents under an employment-based group health plan for up to 18 months.  If military service is for 30 or fewer days, you and your family can continue coverage at the same cost as before your short service.  If military service is longer, you and your family may be required to pay as much as 102% of the full premium for coverage.  You should receive a notice from your plan explaining your rights.

Finally, another law known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) may give you and your family rights to enroll in other group health plan coverage if it is available to you (for example, if your spouse's employer sponsors a group health plan).  You and your family have this opportunity to enroll regardless of the plan's otherwise applicable enrollment periods.  However, to qualify, you must request enrollment in the other plan (for example, your spouse's plan) within 30 days of losing eligibility for coverage under your employer's plan.  After special enrollment is requested, coverage is required to be made effective no later than the first day of the first month following your request for enrollment.  If you are on active duty more than 30 days, coverage in another plan through special enrollment is often cheaper than continuation coverage because the employer often pays a part of the premium.  For more information on the interaction of COBRA and HIPAA, see IRS Notice 98-12: Deciding Whether to Elect COBRA Health Care Continuation Coverage After the Enactment of HIPAA.

Note: When considering your health coverage options, you should examine the scope of the coverage (including benefit coverage and limitations, visit limits, and dollar limits), premiums, cost-sharing (including co-payments and deductibles), and waiting periods for coverage.

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If one of my dependents wants to continue with a current doctor or hospital, can I elect COBRA continuation coverage for only that dependent?

Yes.  You and each of your dependents have a separate, individual right to elect continuation coverage.

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My family was already on COBRA when I was called for active duty.  Can we keep our COBRA coverage?

Yes.  COBRA continuation coverage cannot be terminated because a reservist receives health coverage as an active duty member of the uniformed services and a reservist's family receives health coverage under a government program such as TRICARE.

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My family and I had health coverage under my employer's group health plan before I was called on active duty.  We let this coverage lapse while I was away and took military health coverage.  When I return to my employer from active duty, what are our rights to health coverage under my old plan?

Under USERRA, you and your family should be able to reenter your employer's health plan.  In addition, your plan generally cannot impose a waiting period or other exclusion period if health coverage would have been provided were it not for military service.  The only exception to USERRA's prohibition of exclusions is for an illness or injury determined by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to have been incurred in, or aggravated during, performance of service in the uniformed services, which is covered by the military health plan.

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