Workers of

Healthcare Benefits


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

their dependents.

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

healthcare needs.

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


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