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Distributing Required Notices: What You Need to Know

There are a lot of notices and materials that employers are required to distribute to their employees each year. The requirements for distributing these materials can vary – some are provided only when participants first become eligible for a health plan, some are provided when an employee enrolls in coverage, and others need to be distributed annually. In addition, all notices must be provided to participants upon request. The amount of time employers have to respond to a participant’s request can vary, so prompt attention to requests for information is the best practice.

Employers sometimes choose to rely on a third party, such as their COBRA administrator, insurance carrier, or broker, to prepare and provide participants with required notices. However, this requirement ultimately falls on the employer and failure to provide required notices in a timely manner may result in financial penalties.

The notices described below detail some of the more common employer notices related to employer sponsored health and welfare plans. Keep reading to learn more about which notices are required to be distributed to new hires, upon initial enrollment and special enrollment, and annually / open enrollment. Please note that some notices must be distributed at multiple times to employees.

Initial enrollment occurs when an active, eligible employee enrolls in their employer’s plan for the first time, whether they are a new hire or switch to their employers plan. This is different from open enrollment, which occurs annually and offers all benefit eligible employees the opportunity to enroll or change their health plan for the next year. Special enrollment creates an opportunity for an employee to sign up or change their health insurance options due to a qualifying event (getting married, having a baby, adopting a child, etc.). Understanding the differences between the various types of enrollment periods is vital to accurately distributing materials to the right people at the right time.

New Hires

The notices mentioned below must be provided to all new, benefit-eligible employees regardless of whether or not they enroll in coverage. If new hires enroll in coverage, please see the additional information in the sections that follow.

Notice Regarding Availability of Health Insurance Marketplace

Due within 14 days of hire.

This notice provides employees with information on the health insurance options available in the Marketplace as well as the impact of enrolling in the exchange rather than an employer-sponsored plan.

Notice of HIPAA Special Enrollment Rights

Initial & Special Enrollment

The following documents need to be distributed during an employee’s initial enrollment or during a special enrollment period.

As a reminder, initial enrollment occurs when an employee first enrolls in their employer’s health plan, which can occur when they first become employed, or if they newly switch to the plan. Special enrollment is a period that occurs when an employee is offered the chance to sign up for health insurance outside of the annual open enrollment period because of a qualifying life event (getting married, having a baby, adopting a child, loss of coverage under another group health plan, etc.).

Summary Plan Description (SPD)

  • Within 90 days of enrollment of an existing plan

  • Within 120 days of enrollment of a new plan

  • Every 5 years if there are changes to the plan

  • Every 10 years if there are no plan changes

An SPD is a document that needs to be distributed for plans covered under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The SPD is a common-language resource that provides all the important information that employers and plan participants need to know about their benefit plan.

Summary of Benefits Coverage (SBC)

HIPAA Wellness Program Notice

Women’s Health and Cancer Rights (WHCRA) Notice

Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Notice

HIPAA Privacy Notice

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Wellness Program Notice

Initial COBRA Notice

Grandfathered Plan Notice

Open Enrollment / Annual

There are several notices that must be provided to plan participants on an annual basis. It’s important to note that some of these notices have a calendar date deadline (such as Medicare Part D Notice of Creditable / Non-Creditable Status). Before deciding if you are able to distribute a notice during open enrollment, check to ensure the distribution date complies with the deadline.

Summary of Benefits Coverage (SBC)

Due at initial enrollment and open enrollment.

This notice is provided in accordance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which requires health plans and health insurance carriers to provide employees and participants an explanation of benefits offered under the plan. This includes major medical plans, health reimbursement arrangements (HRA) and non-excepted health care flexible spending accounts (FSA).

The SBC should be included with plan application materials during open enrollment. If coverage automatically renews for participants, the SBC must be provided no later than 30 days prior to the start of the new plan year. Employers must provide the SBC within 90 days of enrollment for special enrollees. The SBC must be provided 60 days in advance of any mid-year change to the plan.

Women’s Health and Cancer Rights (WHCRA) Notice

Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Notice

Summary Annual Report (SAR)

Patient Protections Notice

Grandfathered Plan Notice

Medicare Part D Notice of Creditable / Non-Creditable Status

This is not an all-inclusive list of notices that employers need to distribute to employees regarding their benefits. When an employer makes changes to the plan, there are additional distribution requirements they need to provide such as a Summary of Material Modification (SMM). For more information on change-related notices, consult your benefits or legal advisor.

Additionally, notice requirements may change from time-to-time. Employers can verify their notices are current or find templates on the Department of Labor ( or Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services ( websites.

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