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.

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.

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