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Ten Essential COBRA Questions

Posted on: November 5th, 2012 by Kristen Marie

looking at an insuranc policy

Understanding COBRA insurance is important for anyone whether they are employed, unemployed, insured, or uninsured. Knowing your options and the basics will ensure you are prepared in case you find yourself in a situation in the future where you have to make difficult decisions about health care and COBRA.

What is COBRA

COBRA, short for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, is a law that was passed in 1986 to let people continue to use their health insurance plan after job loss. Under this law, employees who meet the criteria for enrollment can continue to use the exact same health insurance plan they had when they were employed. In most cases it lasts for 18 months and will cost 102% of the whole premium. Additionally the benefits extend to children, spouses, and any other dependents.

Who can use COBRA

Under the law there are three conditions that must be met in order to use COBRA. First the health plan that the employee was on must cover at least 20 full time employees (or their part time equivalents) and must still be active. Secondly, the employee must have lost their insurance due to involuntary or voluntary job loss without gross misconduct. This could include quitting, being laid off, or even retiring. Finally, the person signing up for COBRA must be an eligible beneficiary which could include dependents and spouses. Additionally children and spouses can qualify for COBRA in the event of divorce, death, Medicare qualification, and loss of dependent status.

How many months can I use COBRA

In most cases COBRA insurance can be used for 18 months and it starts on the day you would have lost coverage. In some cases, COBRA can be extended to 36 months if you have a disability or second qualifying event. Additionally children and spouses can use COBRA for 36 months in the event of death, divorce, loss of dependent status, and Medicare qualification.

What happens to my insurance if I get divorced?

In most cases, as long as your spouse’s plan meets the qualifying requirement, then in the event of divorce you will qualify for COBRA for up to 36 months. It is your responsibility to inform the health insurance provider and sign up for COBRA. Failure to do this right away can result in not being eligible for benefits. In most states you are also eligible for COBRA in the event of legal separation.

How much is COBRA

Under the law COBRA insurance costs 102% of the premium. This includes the entire premium – both what you paid and what your employer paid – plus a 2% administration fee. You can usually find this amount listed on the COBRA enrollment paperwork or you can calculate it yourself.

Do my children get to use COBRA

As long as the covered employee qualifies based on the plan type, then children are eligible as well for COBRA coverage. The law and benefits extend to the entire family. If you learn you are not eligible for COBRA, then you can look into state CHIP plans that may cover your children.

What can I do if I can’t afford COBRA?

There are multiple options for people who can’t afford COBRA and the best option for you will depend on your health status, age, and personal situation. The most common options that people consider are private insurance plans, government or community insurance plans, and finding a trade/alumni insurance plan. Private plans can usually save people up to 65% on the monthly cost and actually offer very similar coverage to COBRA.

Where do I sign up for COBRA?

Signing up for COBRA is a relatively easy process. To sign up you will need to get the COBRA election form form your former employer and complete it by the due date on the form. You will also need to pay the premium to start the insurance. It is retroactive back to the day your coverage was lost and will cover any expenses incurred during that time.

How will my coverage change with COBRA?

Your coverage will not change at all with COBRA because you are keeping the exact same plan. In some instances if the company you worked for changes aspects of their plan, then your plan will also change just like it would if you were still employed.

Can I use COBRA if I quit?

Yes. COBRA insurance works for voluntary and involuntary job loss which includes when someone quits their job. Many people are unaware of this option and miss out on potentially using COBRA for their health plan.

Applying for Benefits – The COBRA Insurance Application

Posted on: September 28th, 2012 by Kristen Marie

In a difficult economy many people are facing difficult decisions about COBRA and other health insurance options and want to fully understand the process of enrolling in COBRA before making their final decision. Luckily the COBRA application process is not overly complicated and you can easily complete the form in a short time. Here’s how to complete the application for COBRA.

  1. Decide Who Is Using COBRA: Before you start filling out the application it is important to determine what family members are going to sign up for COBRA and what family members can use a cheaper alternative. Generally people who are healthy can find something less expensive than COBRA. Additionally children many times can qualify for state sponsored programs that are at a lower cost. In the COBRA application you will indicate each person signing up for COBRA so make sure to fully investigate your options before completing this step.
  2. Take Note of the Due Date:The date on the application is very important and missing the deadline can mean you are not eligible for benefits from COBRA. Make sure you know the due date and are prepared to complete the application at least one week before the deadline. If it is not turned in within 60 days of the notification date, you lose your option for COBRA.
  3. Know the Cost: The next thing to plan for is the cost of COBRA. Since COBRA is retroactive back to the date that you lost coverage, you are responsible for paying the full premiums for that time period when you sign up. If you sign up right away this will likely only be one month of premiums. However if you wait to sign up until the end of the 60 day you will have to pay for two months. Failure to pay the full premium can result in loss of benefits.
  4. Mail In the COBRA Application: Lastly you need to mail in the application to the address listed on the application form. Make sure to send this in at least one week before the 60 day window to make sure you do not miss the deadline due to the time it take for the application to arrive.

How Do I Apply For the COBRA Subsidy?

Unfortunately the COBRA subsidy from 2010 no longer is available and you therefore can not apply for it. However there are still ways to save money on COBRA that can help you find ways to cut down the costs. Learn more about reducing COBRA costs.

What is the COBRA Insurance phone number?

Posted on: September 27th, 2012 by Kristen Marie

medical equipment

You have questions about COBRA and want to talk to someone about them. It’s a pretty common situation for people looking at COBRA coverage but it can be surprisingly difficult to know where to call and who to contact for COBRA. Here is a quick guide about who to contact and how to contact them when you have questions about COBRA that you need to get answered. Additionally you can take a look at our frequently asked COBRA questions.

Questions About Eligibility

When you have questions about whether or not you are eligible for COBRA the first place should you call is your former employer They have an obligation under the law to inform you of your COBRA rights both when you start working and after you have lost your job. If you are not able to find the answers you want after speaking to your former employer, the next place to call is the health insurance plan provider. They should also be able to inform you if you are eligible. Finally if all else fails you can contact the Department of Labor at 1-866-487-2365.

Questions About Coverage

When you have questions about your coverage including what services you can use and what different services of health care visits will cost you should contact your health insurance company. They will be able to tell you exactly what is included and how much it costs. They can also help you determine which doctors and hospitals you can visit with COBRA. Remember COBRA is just an extension of your old plan so everything will stay the same.

Questions About COBRA Laws

If you have questions about the actual law for COBRA the best place to look is either at our COBRA law page or to contact the Department of Labor, who oversees the law in the federal government. In many cases you can find all the information you need about the law online, but if not try calling the Department of Labor hotline at 1-866-487-2365.

Employer Failed to Fulfill Their Responsibility

If you believe that your employer has not fulfilled their legal obligations under the law, this is a very serious issue that carries very serious fines. In fact employers can be fined up to $110 per employee daily from the IRS and also incur hefty fines from other agencies. You should immediately contact the Department of Labor in this situation so that they can assist you right away.

COBRA Insurance Rules

Posted on: September 26th, 2012 by Kristen Marie

doctor writing prescription

Like any other federal law, there are lot of COBRA rules that are important to understand and follow to ensure that you get the coverage you want and are able to keep it. Failure to follow the rules for COBRA can result in you losing your coverage or not being able to sign up at all. Additionally family members and other beneficiaries may miss out if they are unaware of when they need to notify insurance companies and workplaces of their wishes. Make sure to follow these rules when even considering COBRA health insurance.

Rules for Signing Up

There are certain rules that both the employer and employee must follow in order to sign up for COBRA health and make sure they get the coverage they want.

  • The employer must notify the employee of their COBRA rights when they first become employed
  • The employer has 14 days to notify the employee and their beneficiaries of their eligibility
  • The employee and beneficiaries have 60 days from the date on the notice to sign up for COBRA
  • COBRA is retroactive back to the day coverage was lost if someone signs up
  • In the event of divorce, death, Medicaid qualification, or loss of dependent status it is the responsibility of the beneficiary to inform the workplace and insurance company of their intention to sign up for COBRA

Rules About Cost

The federal government also set very specific rules about the cost of COBRA that anyone on the federal plan must follow in order to be in compliance.

  • COBRA will cost 102% of the full premium
  • Employers are not required by law to subsidize any part of the COBRA expense
  • Insurance companies may cancel your COBRA coverage if you fail to pay your premium on time

Rules About Changes to Plans

Many people want to know what happens to their plan when the company changes the plan or even goes out of business. Here are the most common COBRA rules regarding changes to health plans.

  • If the company goes out of business or stops offering health insurance plan, your COBRA coverage will end
  • If the company changes insurance providers, you will have the same option to switch to the new provider as you would if you were still employed. Make sure to closely look at any changes in coverage and cost before just enrolling in the new plan
  • Open enrollment works the same with COBRA as it did while you were employed. Always plan carefully around open enrollment since COBRA only lasts for 18 months.
  • If the employer decides to increase the cost of the health plan, the same price increases will be passed onto your COBRA coverage.
  • Any changes to the cost of co-payments, deductibles, hospital charges, co-insurance, etc. will also affect your plan

Anytime you are unsure of the COBRA rules the best thing to always do is to call your health insurance provider or the Human Assets department at your former company. Additionally our questions and answers about COBRA can help you find information you are looking for about COBRA coverage, eligibility, and more.

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