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.

I have both Medicare and COBRA coverage, how do I know which will pay my benefits?

Medicare is the Federal health insurance program for people who are 65 or older and certain younger people with disabilities or End-Stage Renal Disease. If you are enrolled in Medicare as well as COBRA continuation coverage, there may be special coordination of benefits rules that determine which coverage is the primary payer of benefits. Check your Summary Plan Description to see if special rules apply or ask your plan administrator. For more information on Medicare, visit Medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE.

If I waive COBRA coverage during the election period, can I still get coverage at a later date?

If you waive COBRA coverage during the election period, you must be permitted later to revoke your waiver of coverage and to elect continuation coverage as long as you do so during the election period. Then, the plan need only provide continuation coverage beginning on the date you revoke the waiver.

In addition, certain Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Program participants have a second opportunity to elect COBRA continuation coverage. Individuals who are eligible and receive Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA), individuals who would be eligible to receive TRA, but have not yet exhausted their unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, and individuals receiving benefits under Alternative Trade Adjustment Assistance (ATAA) or Reemployment Trade Adjustment Assistance (RTAA), and who did not elect COBRA during the general election period, may get a second election period. This additional, second election period is measured 60 days from the first day of the month in which an individual is determined eligible for the TAA benefits listed above and receives such benefit. For example, if an individual’s general election period runs out and he or she is determined eligible for TRA (or would be eligible for TRA but have not exhausted UI benefits) or begin to receive ATAA or RTAA benefits 61 days after separating from employment, at the beginning of the month, he or she would have approximately 60 more days to elect COBRA. However, if this same individual does not meet the eligibility criteria until the end of the month, the 60 days are still measured from the first of the month, in effect giving the individual about 30 days. Additionally, a COBRA election must be made not later than 6 months after the date of the TAA-related loss of coverage. COBRA coverage chosen during the second election period typically begins on the first day of that period. More information about the Trade Act is available at doleta.gov/tradeact/.

Is a divorced spouse entitled to COBRA coverage from their former spouses’ group health plan?

Under COBRA, participants, covered spouses and dependent children may continue their plan coverage for a limited time when they would otherwise lose coverage due to a particular event, such as divorce (or legal separation). A covered employee’s spouse who would lose coverage due to a divorce may elect continuation coverage under the plan for a maximum of 36 months. A qualified beneficiary must notify the plan administrator of a qualifying event within 60 days after divorce or legal separation. After being notified of a divorce, the plan administrator must give notice, generally within 14 days, to the qualified beneficiary of the right to elect COBRA continuation coverage.

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