Are there alternatives for health coverage other than COBRA?

If you become entitled to elect COBRA continuation coverage when you otherwise would lose group health coverage under a group health plan, you should consider all options you may have to get other health coverage before you make your decision. There may be more affordable or more generous coverage options for you and your family through other group health plan coverage (such as a spouse’s plan), the Health Insurance Marketplace, or Medicaid.

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), if you or your dependents are losing eligibility for group health coverage, including eligibility for continuation coverage, you may have a right to special enroll (enroll without waiting until the next open season for enrollment) in other group health coverage. For example, an employee losing eligibility for group health coverage may be able to special enroll in a spouse’s plan. A dependent losing eligibility for group health coverage may be able to enroll in a different parent’s group health plan. To have a special enrollment opportunity, you or your dependent must have had other health coverage when you previously declined coverage in the plan in which you now want to enroll. You must request special enrollment within 30 days from the loss of your job-based coverage.

Losing your job-based coverage is also a special enrollment event in the Health Insurance Marketplace (Marketplace). The Marketplace offers “one-stop shopping” to find and compare private health insurance options. In the Marketplace, you could be eligible for a tax credit that lowers your monthly premiums and cost-sharing reductions (amounts that lower your out-of-pocket costs for deductibles, coinsurance and copayments), and you can see what your premium, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs will be before you make a decision to enroll.

Eligibility for COBRA continuation coverage won’t limit your eligibility for Marketplace coverage or for a tax credit. You can apply for Marketplace coverage at HealthCare.gov or by calling 1-800-318-2596 (TTY 1-855-889-4325). To qualify for special enrollment in a Marketplace plan, you must select a plan within 60 days before or 60 days after losing your job-based coverage. In addition, during an open enrollment period, anyone can enroll in Marketplace coverage. If you need health coverage in the time between losing your job-based coverage and beginning coverage through the Marketplace (for example, if you or a family member needs medical care), you may wish to elect COBRA coverage from your former employer’s plan. COBRA continuation coverage will ensure you have health coverage until the coverage through your Marketplace plan begins.


Through the Marketplace you can also learn if you qualify for free or low-cost coverage from Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). You can apply for and enroll in Medicaid or CHIP any time of year. If you qualify, your coverage begins immediately. Visit HealthCare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 (TTY 1-855-889-4325) for more information or to apply for these programs. You can also apply for Medicaid by contacting your state Medicaid office and learn more about the CHIP program in your state by calling 1-877-KIDS-NOW (543-7669) or visiting insurekidsnow.gov. If you or your dependent elects COBRA continuation coverage, you will have another opportunity to request special enrollment in a group health plan or a Marketplace plan if you have a new special enrollment event, such as marriage, the birth of a child, or if you exhaust your continuation coverage. To exhaust COBRA continuation coverage, you or your dependent must receive the maximum period of continuation coverage available without early termination. Keep in mind if you choose to terminate your COBRA continuation coverage early with no special enrollment opportunity at that time, you generally will have to wait to enroll in other coverage until the next open enrollment period for the new group health plan or the Marketplace.

Can continuation coverage be terminated early for any reason?

A group health plan may terminate coverage earlier than the end of the maximum period for any of the following reasons:

– Premiums are not paid in full on a timely basis;

– The employer ceases to maintain any group health plan;

– A qualified beneficiary begins coverage under another group health plan after electing continuation coverage;

– A qualified beneficiary becomes entitled to Medicare benefits after electing continuation coverage; or

– A qualified beneficiary engages in conduct that would justify the plan in terminating coverage of a similarly situated participant or beneficiary not receiving continuation coverage (such as fraud).

If continuation coverage is terminated early, the plan must provide the qualified beneficiary with an early termination notice. The notice must be given as soon as practicable after the decision is made, and it must describe the date coverage will terminate, the reason for termination, and any rights the qualified beneficiary may have under the plan or applicable law to elect alternative group or individual coverage. If you decide to terminate your COBRA coverage early, you generally won’t be able to get a Marketplace plan outside of the open enrollment period. For more information on alternatives to COBRA coverage, see question 4 above.

Can I extend my COBRA continuation coverage?

If you are entitled to an 18 month maximum period of continuation coverage, you may become eligible for an extension of the maximum time period in two circumstances. The first is when a qualified beneficiary is disabled; the second is when a second qualifying event occurs.

Disability – If any one of the qualified beneficiaries in your family is disabled and meets certain requirements, all of the qualified beneficiaries receiving continuation coverage due to a single qualifying event are entitled to an 11-month extension of the maximum period of continuation coverage (for a total maximum period of 29 months of continuation coverage). The plan can charge qualified beneficiaries an increased premium, up to 150 percent of the cost of coverage, during the 11-month disability extension.

The requirements are:

that the Social Security Administration (SSA) determines that the disabled qualified beneficiary is disabled before the 60th day of continuation coverage; and

that the disability continues during the rest of the 18-month period of continuation coverage.

The right to the disability extension may be terminated if the SSA determines that the disabled qualified beneficiary is no longer disabled. The plan can require qualified beneficiaries receiving the disability extension to notify it if the SSA makes such a determination, although the plan must give the qualified beneficiaries at least 30 days after the SSA determination to do so.

The rules for how to give a disability notice and a notice of no longer being disabled should be described in the plan’s SPD (and in the election notice if you are offered an 18-month maximum period of continuation coverage).

Second Qualifying Event – If you are receiving an 18-month maximum period of continuation coverage, you may become entitled to an 18-month extension (giving a total maximum period of 36 months of continuation coverage) if you experience a second qualifying event that is the death of a covered employee, the divorce or legal separation of a covered employee and spouse, a covered employee’s becoming entitled to Medicare (in certain circumstances), or a loss of dependent child status under the plan. The second event can be a second qualifying event only if it would have caused you to lose coverage under the plan in the absence of the first qualifying event. If a second qualifying event occurs, you will need to notify the plan.

The rules for how to give notice of a second qualifying event should be described in the plan’s SPD (and in the election notice if you are offered an 18-month maximum period of continuation coverage). The plan can set a time limit for providing this notice, but the time limit cannot be shorter than 60 days from the latest of: (1) the date on which the qualifying event occurs; (2) the date on which you lose (or would lose) coverage under the plan as a result of the qualifying event; or (3) the date on which you are informed, through the furnishing of either the SPD or the COBRA general notice, of the responsibility to notify the plan and the procedures for doing so.

Can I receive COBRA benefits while on FMLA leave?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires an employer to maintain coverage under any group health plan for an employee on FMLA leave under the same conditions coverage would have been provided if the employee had continued working. Coverage provided under the FMLA is not COBRA coverage, and taking FMLA leave is not a qualifying event under COBRA. A COBRA qualifying event may occur, however, when an employer’s obligation to maintain health benefits under FMLA ceases, such as when an employee taking FMLA leave decides not to return to work and notifies an employer of his or her intent not to return to work. Further information on the FMLA is available on the Website of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division at dol.gov/whd or by calling toll-free 1-866-487-9243.

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