Can Your Employer Drop Disability Health Insurance in 2024?

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Written By kevin

A financial strategist with a knack for demystifying taxes and insurance, Kevin distills complex concepts into actionable advice.

As we approach 2024, many employees are wondering about the future of their health insurance coverage, especially if they become disabled and unable to work. The question of whether an employer can drop an employee’s health insurance while on disability leave is a complex one, with various laws and regulations governing the situation. In this article, we’ll explore the key factors that determine an employer’s obligations and an employee’s rights regarding health insurance coverage during disability leave.

Understanding COBRA and Employee Rights

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) is a federal law that provides employees and their families with the option to continue group health coverage for a limited period after experiencing a qualifying event, such as job loss or reduced work hours. Under COBRA, employees who lose their job or experience a reduction in hours may be eligible to continue their group health coverage at their own expense for up to 18 months. In some states, like California, the Cal-COBRA law extends this coverage for an additional 18 months, allowing for a total of 36 months of continued coverage.

It’s important to note that COBRA applies to most employers with 20 or more employees, and employees are generally entitled to COBRA coverage unless they were terminated for gross misconduct. Additionally, spouses, registered domestic partners, and dependent children of employees are also eligible for COBRA coverage if they were previously covered under the employee’s plan.

Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave (SDI)

In California, employees who become disabled due to a non-work-related injury or illness may be eligible for State Disability Insurance (SDI) benefits, which include both Disability Insurance (DI) and Paid Family Leave (PFL). During the period when an employee is receiving SDI benefits, which can last up to 26 weeks, employers are typically required to continue paying their portion of the health insurance premiums. This means that employees on disability leave may be able to maintain their active health insurance coverage during this time, provided they continue to pay their share of the premiums.

Employer Obligations and Disability Leave

While employers are not legally required to continue health insurance coverage for employees on disability leave beyond any protected leave period, they must adhere to the rules and regulations set forth in their policies, plan documents, and benefits manual. Some employers may choose to extend active health coverage for employees on leave of absence for a certain period, even after the protected leave period has ended.

However, after any protected leave period, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or California Family Rights Act (CFRA), employers may assess whether they can make a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for an employee out on leave. During this ADA assessment period, which can sometimes last over a year, employers are generally not required to continue active health benefits for the employee.

Long-Term Disability and Health Insurance

If an employee becomes disabled and qualifies for long-term disability benefits, their health insurance coverage may be terminated, as employers are not obligated to continue active coverage beyond any protected leave period. However, some long-term disability policies may exclude coverage if the employee is terminated “for cause” (meaning gross misconduct), although such provisions are rare.

It’s crucial for employees receiving long-term disability benefits to understand the implications of their termination on their health insurance coverage. Typically, employer-sponsored healthcare benefits end on the final day of the month in which the employee was terminated, unless the employee elects to continue coverage via COBRA.

Alternative Coverage Options

If an employer drops disability health insurance, employees may need to explore alternative coverage options. One possibility is to enroll in a private health insurance plan, although this can be more expensive than employer-sponsored coverage. Another option is to apply for Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program, which provides health coverage for low-income individuals and families.

Section 125 Plans and Pre-Tax Contributions

Many employers offer Section 125 plans, also known as “Cafeteria Plans,” which allow employees to pay for certain qualified expenses, like health insurance premiums, on a pre-tax basis. This reduces the employee’s taxable income and increases their take-home pay. However, if an employee is enrolled in a Section 125 plan, they generally cannot cancel their health insurance coverage or change their election until the next open enrollment period or if they experience a qualifying life event.

Importance of Understanding Rights and Options

Navigating the complexities of health insurance coverage during disability leave can be challenging, but it’s crucial for employees to understand their rights and options. Reviewing employer policies, plan documents, and benefits manuals can provide valuable information about the company’s obligations and the employee’s rights regarding health insurance coverage during disability leave.

Additionally, consulting with legal professionals or employee benefits experts can help employees make informed decisions and ensure they are taking the necessary steps to protect their health insurance coverage and financial well-being.


As we approach 2024, the question of whether an employer can drop an employee’s disability health insurance remains a complex issue governed by various laws and regulations. While employers are not legally required to continue active health coverage beyond any protected leave period, they must adhere to their own policies and plan documents.

Employees on disability leave should familiarize themselves with their rights under COBRA, SDI, and other relevant laws, as well as explore alternative coverage options if their employer drops their health insurance. Seeking professional guidance and staying informed about changes in laws and regulations can help employees navigate this challenging situation and ensure they have access to the healthcare they need.