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Can I Use Both Medicare and COBRA?

Posted on: September 10th, 2012 by Kristen Marie

doctor and elder patientDue to the difference between Medicare coverage and COBRA coverage, many people want to know whether or not they are able to use COBRA and Medicare at the same time.  And the answer isn’t that simple unfortunately.  It depends on both why you qualified for Medicare and when you enrolled in COBRA coverage.

For people who qualify for Medicare coverage because of their age or a disability, being able to use both plans will be based on when you enrolled in COBRA and which plan you had first.

  • For people who were on COBRA insurance plans before they enrolled in Medicare, in most situations COBRA ends when you start Medicare.  If you already have COBRA when you enroll in Medicare, your COBRA coverage usually ends on the date you enroll in Medicare. However, if you are already on COBRA and become eligible for Medicare, it is always smart to enroll in Medicare Part B right away.  This is because there is no special enrollment period when your COBRA coverage comes to an end.  Any dependents or spouses on COBRA will be able to use it for up to 36 months due to your Medicare qualification.
  • If there are certain things that your Medicare plan does not cover, but your COBRA plan does cover, you may be able to keep a portion of your COBRA plan.  A common example of this is when someone has dental insurance through COBRA but Medicare doesn’t have the same dental offering.  Many plans will allow you to only keep the dental part with COBRA.  To find out if you are eligible, you should contact your health insurance administrator.
  • For people who are already on Medicare and then lose their job (or have another qualifying event) and become eligible for COBRA coverage, you are allowed to sign up for COBRA.  This right is part of ESRD, and in this situation Medicare will be the first plan to pay for any services and then COBRA will pay after that.  The reason to take COBRA in this situation would be due to high medical costs that Medicare doesn’t cover but your COBRA plan would.

Additionally it is important to understand that people who are eligible for Medicare (due to ERSD), have a 30 month coordination period when the employer’s group health insurance plan pays first and then Medicare pays second.  For people enrolled in COBRA during this 30 months window, COBRA health insurance will be the primary insurer.  When COBRA ends, which is likely to happen within that period, Medicare will then take over.  If your COBRA coverage does not end in the 30 months for some reason, then the positions will simply swap and Medicare will become the primary insurer.

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