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Janitor’s health insurance woes a cautionary tale for employers

by on
in Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

When a Maplewood man went to an appointment following colon cancer surgery, his doctor told him his health insurance had lapsed. It turns out, an avoidable HR paperwork mix-up nearly left him destitute and could have threatened his health.

The man had worked for St. Paul-based Marsden Building Main­­te­­nance for decades as a janitor when he was diagnosed with cancer.

After learning he had no insurance, the man called HR to find out what was going on. HR confirmed Marsden had indeed canceled his policy, but gave him few other details.

Worried about mounting medical bills, he began reducing the medication he took and started contacting charities to help.

Finally, he turned to a media group called Watchdog, which began making calls. Soon the real story emerged.

The man had been transferred to a job in a building where employees worked under a union contract. He should have been transferred to the union’s health plan, which was less expensive than the company’s plan. But somewhere along the line, communication broke down. All along, the man had been paying both union dues and company health premiums.

Ultimately, the employer and the union straightened out the matter. The man is now back at work, with union health insurance.

Lesson: Never assume that all of your employees understand complicated health insurance coverage, especially in unusual situations like this one. In cases where employees are moved from one plan to another, designate someone in HR to be responsible for ensuring a seamless transition.

Note: The man’s transfer would have been a triggering event under COBRA—the Consolidated Omni­­bus Budget Reconciliation Act—which re­­quires employers to provide a notice of health care options. Follow­­ing up on that notice would have avoided a lot of bad publicity.

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