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Ten Essential COBRA Questions

Posted on: November 5th, 2012 by Kristen Marie

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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.

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