Plan so long as disability statements were provided. On March 3, 1992, Travelers received documentation that Hubicki was disabled in February 1992, and it extended plaintiff's basic coverage through December 31, 1991 and major coverage through February 1992. (Volner Aff. P 13) Travelers has received further disability statements and has extended coverage accordingly. (Volner Aff. P 14) Furthermore, Travelers avers that it has paid all benefits due plaintiff under the Plan and will continue to provide coverage through December 31, 1992, the maximum period of time in which benefits are available under the Premium Waiver provision, so long as plaintiff continues to provide the requisite documentation. (Volner Aff. P 15)
Payment for submitted medical expenses may have taken some time in arriving. However, defendants point out that plaintiff acknowledged receipt of all these payments at a May 5, 1992 conference before Magistrate Judge Caden. In other words, as plaintiff provided Travelers with medical documentation attesting to her continuing disability, Travelers paid those bills; plaintiff therefore extended her coverage for a total of 36 months. There appears to be no reason why plaintiff is or was entitled to greater benefits than she in fact received.
Accordingly, defendants' motions for summary judgment on any claims regarding benefits termination should be resolved in their favor. Since the COBRA cause of action does not affect plaintiff's employer, there are no outstanding claims to discuss against Amtrak.
II. COBRA Notice
As mentioned above, plaintiff also complains that Travelers failed to send her information about her "COBRA" rights. COBRA was enacted in 1985 to provide employees who had been covered by an employment-related group health care plan with the opportunity to elect group rate continuation of coverage under the plan in the face of some "qualifying event" -- job loss or hour reduction. 29 U.S.C. § 1161; Local 217, Hotel & Restaurant Employees Union v. MHM, Inc., 976 F.2d 805, 809 (2 Cir. 1992) (discussing COBRA purpose and requirements). COBRA amended ERISA to require health care sponsors to provide such coverage and to notify their covered employees of election rights under the Act. 29 U.S.C. § 1161; see also id. § 1166 (notice requirements).
The notification requirements of COBRA are clear. In the event of a covered employee's termination, an employer must notify the administrator of the group health care plan within thirty days, id. § 1166(a)(2); the administrator then has fourteen days to notify the qualified beneficiary of her right to continue coverage, and this period may be longer if the plan is a multiemployer group health care plan and it so provides. Id. § 1166(a)(4). An employer or plan administrator who sends proper notice to the covered employees last known address is deemed to be in good faith compliance with COBRA's notification requirements. Truesdale v. Pacific Holding Co./Hay Adams Div. 778 F. Supp. 77, 81-22 (D.D.C. 1991); see also Conery v. Bath Associates 803 F. Supp. 1388 (N.D. Ind. 1992) ("Courts that have considered [how notice of eligibility must be communicated] have determined that a good faith attempt to comply with a reasonable interpretation of the provision is sufficient.").
A qualified COBRA beneficiary may elect continuation coverage within sixty days of the qualifying event or of notice of the qualifying event, whichever is later. Local 217, 976 F.2d at 809 (citing 29 U.S.C. § 1162(3)); Communications Workers of America v. NYNEX Corp., 898 F.2d 887, 888-889 (2d Cir. 1990) (discussing COBRA); see also Gaskell v. Harvard Coop. Soc., 762 F. Supp. 1539, 1541 (D. Mass. 1991) ("Unless and until such notice is given to the employee, the continuation period cannot begin to run."). Continued coverage extends for a maximum period of eighteen months. 29 U.S.C. § 1162(2)(A). Travelers asserts that it sent plaintiff a package containing information pertaining to COBRA, including a Notice of Qualifying Event form, on September 28, 1989. (Letter from Travelers to Hubicki, June 28, 1992, Exh. C to Amtrak's 3(g) Statement) The insurance company supports this assertion by providing documentation -- in the form of a "Cobradex Employee Record" for plaintiff -- attached to this memorandum and as Exhibit B to the Volner Affidavit; this record is maintained by Travelers in the ordinary course of its business. (Volner Aff. P 8)
Plaintiff confirms receipt of notice by attaching as Exhibits A & B two documents that she says she received without any explanation: a Medicare handbook and a document which appears to me to be the requisite COBRA notification. While plaintiff states that this second document "does not seem to apply to my particular circumstances," the document's contents belie this assertion. The third page of the pamphlet discusses continuation of health and dental coverage for employees who cease their employment "for any reason other than gross misconduct." The COBRA notice of September 1989 appears to be timely.
Travelers argues that even if its notice somehow was deficient, plaintiff in fact received more benefits under her existing insurance policy than she would have received under COBRA; the latter would have afforded her only 18 months of coverage, and she would have been responsible for the premium. One court has held that additional coverage -- even if mistaken -- does not affect the notice obligation. See Gaskell, 762 F. Supp. at 1542 (fact that employer "gratuitously, or even mistakenly, paid for [its employee's] health plan coverage throughout the period of his disability leave and for nearly six months following his resignation . . . cannot, in retrospect, be considered as somehow obviating the notice requirement or altering the continuation period."). But even measuring plaintiff's potential COBRA coverage from when she actually received notice or, more generously, from the last possible date of any qualifying event (April 1991), plaintiff received more than 18 months coverage. She also failed to make a timely election. Thus, with respect to plaintiff's second claim -- that she never received timely COBRA information -- summary judgment in favor of Travelers is appropriate.
Worthy of repetition is this action's clear lesson that insurance companies, health care providers, and employers should explain more clearly and precisely the benefits to which covered employees are entitled -- especially upon a "qualifying event." In this case, letters sent after litigation commenced indicated to plaintiff her current benefits status; however, those communications, sent only at direction of the court, arrived too late to make a difference.
In sum, for all of the reasons discussed above, summary judgment in favor of Travelers and Amtrak is hereby granted.
Dated: Brooklyn, New York
December 11, 1992
I. LEO GLASSER, U.S.D.J.