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The Interaction of Benefits Premiums and Time Away from Work

Date: March 21, 2023

With increasing regularity, our MEC Benefits Committee is fielding questions from Members who are finding themselves in the disadvantaged position of having lost access to their health and wellness benefits following periods of time away from the workplace. 

It isn’t just one particular type of “time away from work” option that is resulting in the loss of benefits. In fact, it can be one of many and these can be used in isolation or in some combination.  Special COLAs, Medical Leaves (including Occupational Leaves), Parental Leaves or through the voluntary reduction in one’s schedule that occurs as a result of trading away (dropping) pairings with other Flight Attendants or personal time off (PTO) can all contribute to the potential loss of benefits if one does not deliberately monitor their benefit premiums to ensure they are paid timely.

While we are working, we take for granted that our premiums are deducted automatically from our paychecks.  And, because this happens with such regularity, it is easier to lose track of our premium payments than you might think.  When we are ill or have been injured on the job, our attention is further diverted into focusing on a return to health and away from monitoring premium payments.  In some cases, and because there is a short “grace” period that is applied before benefits are discontinued, it is easy to be led to believe that they continue indefinitely while on a leave.  This is not the case.  The best rule of thumb:  the employee bears the cost of benefits.   The employee is responsible to ensure these payments are made during any period of leave or unpaid absence.

We offer the following tips to help you monitor your health and welfare premiums while away from work:

First, always ensure the company has your current address on file.  This is of critical importance because when premiums begin to fall into arrears, management will send a notice of premium due to your address of record which is intended as a safety net to protect your continued coverage.

Secondly, we cannot stress the importance of reviewing your monthly pay advice as the singular most direct way of verifying if premiums have been deducted from your pay.

Flying Together >> Employee Services >> My Info/Manager’s Toolbox >> Pay Advices Tile

In the event a review of your pay advice reveals that premiums for benefits were not deducted, access Your Benefits Resource as a way of determining if premiums are due.  Any premiums owed will be posted at YBR.

Flying Together >> Employee Services>> Your Benefits Resource

If you have balance listed here, follow the instructions to pay directly through an ACH payment from your checking or savings account or via a credit card.  Be aware, credit card transactions have a 3% surcharge.

If you are unable to determine the payment status for your health & wellness premiums, it is never safe to assume they have been made.  Always contact the UABC at 1 800 651 1007 during the hours of 7 AM to 7 PM CT to establish the status of your benefits payments.

Why, you might ask, should I be concerned?  Can’t I just resume making payments when I return to work?  It is important to understand that the length of time you are away from work will impact how your health and welfare premiums are handled.  Once you fall behind in the payment of benefit premiums, known as arrears, you will be converted from payroll deduction to a direct bill and pay status.  In order to return to payroll deduction, you must satisfy any outstanding amounts in the direct bill system.  Failure to make those payments can place you continued coverage in jeopardy.

Paying for premiums is critical for a number of reasons.  If caught in time, reinstatement of benefits can be accomplished but the process is tedious and can take up to 45 days to accomplish – if you are eligible for reinstatement.  Under United’s Plan, employees are entitled to a once in a lifetime opportunity to reinstate benefits that are cancelled for non-payment of premiums outside of open enrollment. However, the process requires you to file an appeal during which time you will not have access to benefits coverage.

While perhaps time consuming, any time spent verifying that premiums have been paid is time well spent.  Avoiding the cancellation of coverage during a period where you may need coverage is to your advantage.  If you have additional questions, please contact your Local Council Benefits Committee.

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