In the past three weeks, the Consumer Health Action Network (888-873-4585) has received a number of calls about COBRA. COBRA (which stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) is the federal law that allows workers and their dependents to continue group health coverage at their own expense after employer coverage ends because of termination, reduced hours, and other reasons. This trend is disturbing because it indicates at least one if not more of several problems:
· More Connecticut residents are losing their jobs;
· Employers don’t know their obligations under COBRA; and/or
· Employers are counting on their employees not knowing their rights under COBRA.
The program is complicated, but here are some basics:
· In Connecticut, all employers are covered by COBRA law.
· Employees are eligible for COBRA insurance when they retire, quit, are laid off or fired for anything other than gross misconduct, or have reduced hours.
o Employees are covered up to 18 months under the federal COBRA law. If the employee is between 62 and 65 and eligible for COBRA, Connecticut law requires the employer to offer COBRA coverage until the person reaches 65 (when Medicare starts), regardless of the number of months involved.
· COBRA insurance will also cover surviving, divorced, or separated spouses; dependent children; or dependent children who lose their dependent status under their parent’s plan.
o Depending on the reason for loss of coverage under an employer plan, spouses and dependent children may be eligible for COBRA benefits up to 36 months.
· Retirees can qualify for COBRA if their former employer files for bankruptcy.
COBRA coverage can be expensive, especially for people who have just become unemployed, but it is an important option for people to keep coverage through transitions. It is critical that everyone know their rights.
If you have questions about COBRA, go to http://www.cthealthpolicy.org/action/tips/200612_cobra.pdf or call the Consumer Health Action Network Helpline toll-free in CT at 1-888-873-4585.