Running around COBRA’s barn again

Just realized I didn’t write a post this morning and then, whilst frolicking with bureaucrats, didn’t get to it this afternoon, either.

Another fine exercise in jumping through hoops and tearing around the Maypole today.

Not having heard anything more from the COBRA administrators over the past 15 days, despite having been told that a notice and a statement would be sent out, I called again to inquire.

Today’s bureaucrat harked back to the original claim that I needed to have sent them money a month BEFORE I was laid off my job. I explained that Arizona State University’s Human Resources people said that I was not supposed to send money while I was still employed there. She said well, then I wasn’t covered.

So I’ve now spent the last month without any health coverage at all, if you believe this one’s version.

She wants me to present myself in person on Monday—when I’ll be teaching until 2:00 in the afternoon about 25 miles from their office—with a check for $334 in hand. This, she says, will cover me through February.

Of course, that doesn’t make any sense, because the one who told me I’d been approved for the ARRAS discount said my premiums would be $185. Two times $185 is $370. So… who knows what this is about.

Entertaining, isn’t it?

First ASU’s HR people told me I would be not qualified for the ARRAS discount because my last day of work was December 31. Then the Arizona Department of Administration, which administers COBRA, told me I would be qualified for the ARRAS discount because my last day of work was December 31. I sent an application and was told I was approved.

Next, ADOA said I should send a chunk of money to the state no later than the first week in December. Then ASU’s HR department told me this demand was incomprehensible, that I most certainly did not need to send money for COBRA while I was still employed by ASU, and that COBRA would send me a statement after I was terminated, saying how much and when to pay.

In mid-January, ADOA informed me that I was not terminated and as far as they could tell I was still employed by ASU. Then ASU told me I most certainly was terminated and ADOA did not know what they were talking about. Then ADOA told me I was not terminated and was still a state employee.

After I spoke with my ex-husband’s former law partner, who is now Arizona State University’s general counsel, I was told the mess was cleaned up. At that point, I was informed that I had actually been canned not on December 31 but on January 10, but nevertheless because the Obama Administration had extended the ARRAS discount into February, I still would be able to get  coverage I could sort of pay for.

On January 14, I spoke to one Connie at ADOA, who said I did not have to send a check but that I would receive a letter telling me of my eligibility and letting me know where and when to send a premium payment. And by the way, no, I did not need to make a COBRA payment a month before my job ended. That was 15 days ago. No such communication has appeared.

Now I am told I need to pony up $334.04, which is supposed to cover me “through February.” Three hundred and thirty-four dollars is slightly more than twice the earned income I have received this month.

So, this afternoon I called the Feds.

There I learned that while COBRA is indeed a federal law, the federal government’s regulatory oversight is limited to private employers. If you work for a state university or government office, you’re on your own! I asked the woman who shared this gem with me if she thought I should call a lawyer. She said not yet…it’ll be another week or so before they’re actually in violation of the law. She recommended going back to HR (hah! words from a lady who’s never had to deal with ASU’s HR department!) and nagging some more.

I am nagged out. On Monday I will trudge down to ADOA in person, hand over $334, and demand a receipt that states exactly what the money is for, and not only that, ask that they produce a policy or a contract describing what I get and when. After that, I give up. If I get in a car wreck or have a heart attack before Medicare kicks in, I guess I’ll just have to drain my savings to pay the bills and then declare bankruptcy.

Ain’t workin’ for the State of Arizona grand?

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Patti January 30, 2010 at 5:15 am

First, happy retirement.

Second, since ASU had you on their payroll until Januay 10th are you entitled to any vacation time for 2010? What about salary?

Third, good luck with COBRA.

And last but not least, have a wonderful retirement! I was laid off in December, 206 and while it’s been rocky at times I love it.

Patti

funny January 30, 2010 at 8:19 am

I thought of that, for one brief shining moment. But in fact I earned nothing between December 31 and January 10, even though they kept me in the payroll system.

Because of the wonky way that PeopleSoft works, in order to pay me for the amount owing between the December 28 payday and December 31, my last day, they had to keep me on the payroll for the pay period that stretched to January 10. When PeopleSoft takes over a payroll job, they switch everyone to “lagging pay,” which means that you’re not getting paid for your most recent work–real-life pay periods are way behind the actual date you get your paycheck.

Because they had to pay me for three days in December, they kept me in their system until January 10. The result is that they officially “terminated” me (how apt!) on January 10, and that is what they tell the federal government: that I was on the payroll until January, even though I was out the door on December 31.

This little accounting trick would have rendered me ineligible for the ARRAS discount, had the Congress not extended it for a few more weeks.

Patti January 30, 2010 at 11:20 am

Oh well, it was worth a thought!

Are you filing for unemployment? When I was downsized (my department was also closed) I was eligible for unemployment even though I was given severence pay and a lump sum pension. In 2007 unemployment was only for 6 months but it did help.

I was lucky for insurance. Since I was pension eligible, I am still covered on my former employers group insurance. Starting this year I have to pay a small premium but it is minor.

I am hitting one of those rocky patches right now so I have been looking for part time work but haven’t had much luck.

Best of luck to you!

Patti

funny January 30, 2010 at 8:44 pm

@ Patti: I can’t apply for unemployment, because of the Social Security earnings limitation! Because UI withholds Medicare & FICA, they consider that to be “earned income.” My pay for teaching three & three at the junior college will push me right up to the edge of the $14,400 I’ll be allowed to earn without penalty this year.

Ellen January 31, 2010 at 3:47 pm

What does COBRA stand for? (well, besides a way to raise blood pressure). I’m not good at acronyms.

funny January 31, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985. The American Cancer Society has a very clear explanation of the background and current status of this federal law.

Revanche January 31, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Welcome back! :) I was trying to comment on this post earlier. Seems fishy to me that PeopleSoft stretched out your time on the payroll like that – I’m not sure if it’s subject to state or federal employment laws but I thought that the rules governing termination dictated that they cannot have you on the payroll system a day beyond the termination and your last check has to be cut immediately.

Come to think of it, that might be a CA labor law but it might be worth checking into AZ labor law?

funny January 31, 2010 at 6:49 pm

@ Revanche: Thanks for cluing me that the site was down–I probably wouldn’t have noticed until much later or even the next morning.

Arizona is a right-to-work state. Consequently, labor laws here are very weak. The woman I spoke with at the Feds was with the Department of Labor! She said that the federal government regulates the application of COBRA in private industry, but where state employers are concerned is powerless. Thus, with no credible labor unions and local laws designed to work against the interest of workers, state employees are left without recourse.

PeopleSoft has apparently found a way around whatever law exists (if one does) that requires them to terminate you on your last day. It’s a large company and like all megacorporations has the ability to purchase as much influence as it needs in Washington, I assume.

Revanche February 1, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Absolutely, I’m glad it was just a hinky-jigger. And I hadn’t realized that there were such major differences between right-to-work and Union-strong states! I looked it up and no wonder … I’m sorry this is your Monday.

Arundel February 5, 2010 at 11:13 am

Did you know that some of your ads aren’t for what they say? One ad that came up was for group health insurance plans you could sign up for as a person looking for coverage, which would help me a lot since my COBRA is running out. But when you get in there it’s for something completely different. That seems sort of desceptive.

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