How do I find out about COBRA coverage?

Group health plans must provide covered employees and their families with certain notices explaining their COBRA rights. Your COBRA rights must be described in the plan’s Summary Plan Description (SPD), which you should receive within 90 days after you first become a participant in the plan. In addition, group health plans must give each employee and spouse who becomes covered under the plan a general notice describing COBRA rights, also provided within the first 90 days of coverage. Before a group health plan must offer continuation coverage, a qualifying event must occur, and the plan must be notified of the qualifying event. Who must give notice of the qualifying event depends on the type of qualifying event.

The employer must notify the plan if the qualifying event is the covered employee’s termination or reduction of hours of employment, death, entitlement to Medicare, or bankruptcy of a private-sector employer. The employer must notify the plan within 30 days of the event.

You (the covered employee or one of the qualified beneficiaries) must notify the plan if the qualifying event is divorce, legal separation, or a child’s loss of dependent status under the plan. The plan must have procedures for how to give notice of the qualifying event, and the procedures should be described in both the general notice and the plan’s SPD. The plan can set a time limit for providing this notice, but it cannot be shorter than 60 days, starting 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 due to 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 procedures for doing so.

If your plan does not have reasonable procedures for how to give notice of a qualifying event, you can give notice by contacting the person or unit that handles your employer’s employee benefits matters. If your plan is a multiemployer plan, notice can also be given to the joint board of trustees, and, if the plan is administered by an insurance company (or the benefits are provided through insurance), notice can be given to the insurance company. When the plan receives a notice of a qualifying event, it must give the qualified beneficiaries an election notice which describes their rights to continuation coverage and how to make an election. This notice must be provided within 14 days after the plan receives notice of the qualifying event.

How long do I have to elect COBRA coverage?

If you are entitled to elect COBRA coverage, you must be given an election period of at least 60 days (starting on the later of the date you are furnished the election notice or the date you would lose coverage) to choose whether or not to elect continuation coverage.

Each of the qualified beneficiaries for a qualifying event may independently elect COBRA coverage. This means that if both you and your spouse are entitled to elect continuation coverage, you each may decide separately whether to do so. The covered employee or spouse must be allowed to elect on behalf of any dependent children or on behalf of all of the qualified beneficiaries. A parent or legal guardian may elect on behalf of a minor child.

How long does a participant have to elect COBRA coverage?

A completed election form must be received by NueSynergy within 60 days of loss of coverage or the date on which paperwork was sent (whichever is longer). If an election form is postmarked by the 60th day but isn’t received until the 62nd day, the election is valid. Payment coupons to participant are then issued within one to two business days.

How long does COBRA coverage last?

COBRA requires that continuation coverage extend from the date of the qualifying event for a limited period of 18 or 36 months. The length of time depends on the type of qualifying event that gave rise to the COBRA rights. A plan, however, may provide longer periods of coverage beyond the maximum period required by law.

When the qualifying event is the covered employee’s termination of employment or reduction in hours of employment, qualified beneficiaries are entitled to 18 months of continuation coverage. When the qualifying event is the end of employment or reduction of the employee’s hours, and the employee became entitled to Medicare less than 18 months before the qualifying event, COBRA coverage for the employee’s spouse and dependents can last until 36 months after the date the employee becomes entitled to Medicare. For example, if a covered employee becomes entitled to Medicare 8 months before the date his/her employment ends (termination of employment is the COBRA qualifying event), COBRA coverage for his/her spouse and children would last 28 months (36 months minus 8 months). For more information on how entitlement to Medicare impacts the length of COBRA coverage, contact the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration at askebsa.dol.gov or by calling 1-866-444-3272. For other qualifying events, qualified beneficiaries must be provided 36 months of continuation coverage.

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