COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS OF AMERICA
Healthcare Benefits During Strikes
? In strike situations where an employer cuts off healthcare benefits, CWA will pay
for necessary medical/hospital expenses. In some extreme cases the Fund
Director may authorize payment of healthcare premiums (COBRA) on behalf of
strikers and their dependents. The CWA Members’ Relief Fund will only pay
COBRA premiums for healthcare. CWA self-insures for other medical needs such
as “necessary” dental and vision care. The Members’ Relief Fund does not pay
life insurance premiums.
? The term “necessary” does not include any treatment not normally covered under
the employer’s health plan, nor does it include any care such as elective
procedures or dental visits that can be postponed until the end of the strike.
? Whenever an employer stops healthcare coverage during a strike and the Local’s
Community Services Committee decides that it is prudent to pay COBRA on
behalf of the striker, then the COBRA form and necessary justification (doctor’s
prognosis, medical bills etc...) must be attached to the disbursement voucher and
available for inspection.
? Strikers must still pay healthcare premium contributions as well as any
deductibles and co-pays that existed before the strike. The concept being that
no one should have a better benefit during a strike than that which was in effect
before the strike.
? It is the responsibility of the Local’s Community Services Committee to attempt to
get the healthcare provider (doctor, dentist, hospital, etc.) to accept as full
payment an amount less than that which was billed. A notation of this attempt
must be made in the striker’s record.
? All bills submitted for payment must contain all the necessary information (name of
patient, date of treatment and service rendered).
? Strikers who can obtain healthcare coverage through other sources, such as a
spouse’s health plan, should rely on those sources during the strike.
? Canadian Locals should refer to the letters on pages 15 and 16 of this Guide.
Frequently Asked Questions – Healthcare
Q. I am on strike. What protections do I have that I will not go without needed
A. A law called COBRA (USA Bargaining units only) requires group health plans
to offer striking workers and their covered dependents the opportunity to
continue health coverage for up to 18 months when they go on strike by paying
for it out of their own pockets. This applies to medical, dental and vision benefits.
Strikers do not have to continue any coverage, they can choose to pay for only
the core medical benefits, or they can choose to pay for only themselves or only
CWA has made a commitment to assist striking workers in paying for their
healthcare needs out of the Members’ Relief Fund during their participation in the
strike. Working with Local Union’s Community Services Committee, members can
make decisions about the best way to cover their needs, and the Union will
determine whether to pay for monthly premiums or to assist in paying for
healthcare services on an “as needed” basis.
Q. How much will I have to pay if I elect to continue coverage?
A. Employers are allowed to charge striking workers up to 102% of the current
health plan premium. For example, if the current premium is $200, then the
striking worker cannot be charged more than $204.
Striking workers should check with the Local Union’s Community Services
Committee before electing to continue coverage. In those cases where there is
an immediate, ongoing and serious health condition, CWA will provide immediate
financial assistance toward paying the COBRA health plan premium. In other
cases, CWA may ask strikers to delay the election and will assist in defraying any
unforeseen or minor healthcare expenses as they arise. The goal is always to
assure strikers’ access to needed healthcare during the strike.
Q. How much time do I have to make a decision?
A. Strikers have 60 days to elect COBRA coverage. The 60-day period begins
either on the day the strike begins or the date on the notice sent by the employer
describing COBRA rights, whichever is later. However, coverage does not begin
until the premium is paid. If necessary, your premium can be paid retroactively.
Working with the Local Union’s Community Services Committee, you can
determine whether you should apply for continuation coverage immediately, or if
you can delay electing coverage in order to delay making a premium payment.
Q. When do I have to begin paying the premium if I elect to continue
A. As mentioned above, COBRA allows you up to 60 days to decide whether you
want to continue your coverage. If you make an election to continue, then you
have another 45 days to pay the premium. However, before electing coverage or
paying a premium, you should contact your Local Union’s Community Services
Committee. He or she will help you determine whether it might be a good idea to
delay electing coverage in order to delay paying the premium, and to determine
in what ways the CWA Members’ Relief Fund can assist you in paying for your
If you decide to apply for assistance from the Members’ Relief Fund, the Local
Union’s Community Services Committee will ask you to complete a “Request for
Members’ Relief Fund Reimbursement” form. That form will be forwarded to the
District Member’s Relief Fund Coordinator who will determine whether to
reimburse you for a premium payment or to reimburse your healthcare expenses
on an “as needed” basis. If necessary, you can pay your premium retroactively
and the Fund will reimburse the expense.
Q. What happens if I haven’t elected coverage, but a serious emergency
A. First of all, take care of your health needs. Here’s an example: you are in a car
accident and are taken to the hospital emergency room at 2:00 AM. If the
hospital insists on proof of coverage or some form of payment, offer them a credit
card. As soon as possible, contact your Local Union’s Community Services
Committee. The Committee will contact the necessary people to assure that
your healthcare needs are met. The Members’ Relief Fund Coordinator will
authorize a check to assure coverage of any necessary medical expenses.
Q. I belong to an HMO. What happens if I need medical attention during the
60-day election period?
A. If you need medical attention before you have elected continuation coverage, but
before the 60-day election period is over, the HMO may ask you to either elect
continuation coverage at that time or to pay the reasonable and customary fee
for the services required. If you can pay for the services at the time (by credit
card if possible), do so. Then, immediately contact your Local Union’s
Community Services Committee to begin the process of applying for assistance
from the Members’ Relief Fund.
Q. What if the Member’s Relief Fund decides to pay for my care on an “as
needed” basis, but I think my family would be better off with continuation
A. You are always free to make your own decision about whether to continue
coverage or not. The Members’ Relief Fund Coordinator makes
recommendations on the best way to use Fund monies so that CWA striking
members’ necessary healthcare needs are met. If you do not agree with his/her
decision, you can still elect to continue coverage on your own.
Q. What is the limit on how long a striking worker can continue coverage?
A. COBRA limits continuation coverage during a strike situation to no longer than 18
months after the strike begins. Coverage is also discontinued if premiums are
not paid during the time; if the employer discontinues the group health plan; if
you qualify for Medicare benefits; or if you become covered under another plan.
CWA has made a commitment to help striking workers with their healthcare
needs as long as the strike continues.
Q. We are Canadian members and COBRA does not apply to us, we have a
national health plan but many basic benefits are covered under
“supplemental” insurances. What is the Union’s policy about healthcare
coverage for us during strike and lockouts?
A. CWA provides the same commitments to our Canadian members that are
provided to those in the States. In considering the differences in national
healthcare approaches of our two nations, we have established some basic
principles for healthcare benefits in strikes and lockouts that occur in Canada.
These principles are highlighted in two letters on pages 15 and 16 of this