When an employee leaves their job or has their work hours reduced, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) is a health insurance program that allows qualifying employees and their families to keep their health care coverage. We’ll go through the basics of COBRA, including how it works, qualifying criteria, benefits and drawbacks, and other aspects.
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) provides eligible employees and their families with the option of continuing health insurance coverage if they lose their job or have their work hours reduced.
COBRA coverage is normally required for employers with 20 or more full-time equivalent employees.
COBRA health insurance coverage is only available for a short time, either 18 or 36 months, depending on the circumstances.
Because the newly unemployed person pays the entire cost of the insurance, COBRA coverage is frequently expensive (employers usually pay a significant portion of healthcare premiums for employees).
If you lost your health insurance due to a job loss during the 2020 economic crisis, you are eligible for a 60-day “special enrollment” period on the federal exchange. This could be a method to find a health insurance plan that is less expensive than COBRA.
From April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 provides qualified persons with 100 percent COBRA premium coverage.
COBRA Continuation Coverage: What Is It?
Employers with 50 or more full-time employees in the United States are required to provide health insurance to their eligible employees by paying a portion of the premiums.
1 If an employee loses eligibility for an employer’s health insurance coverage for a variety of reasons (such as being laid off or working fewer than a certain number of hours per week), the employer may stop paying its portion of the employee’s insurance payments.
In this scenario, COBRA permits an employee and their dependents to keep their current insurance coverage for a limited time if they are willing to pay for it themselves.
The federal government would pay COBRA insurance payments for individuals (and their insured relatives) who lost their employment as a result of the 2020 economic crisis from April 1 to September 30, 2021, as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
Former employees, spouses, and dependent children must be offered the option of continuing their health insurance coverage at group rates under COBRA, which would otherwise be canceled.
While these individuals will likely pay more for COBRA health insurance than they did as workers (since the company will no longer fund a portion of the premium costs), COBRA coverage may be less expensive than an individual insurance plan.
It’s crucial to remember that COBRA is a health-insurance program, and plans may include coverage for prescription medicines, dental work, and vision care. It excludes life and disability insurance from the equation.
COBRA Health Insurance Eligibility
Different employees and other individuals who may be qualified for COBRA coverage must meet different criteria.
In addition to completing these requirements, eligible employees are usually only eligible for COBRA coverage after certain qualifying events, which are outlined below.
COBRA coverage is normally required for employers with 20 or more full-time equivalent employees. Part-time employees’ working hours might be combined to generate a full-time-equivalent employee, determining the employer’s overall COBRA eligibility. COBRA covers private-sector insurance as well as those sponsored by the majority of local and state governments. A law comparable to COBRA protects federal employees.
Moreover, many states have local statutes that are comparable to COBRA. These are known as mini-COBRA plans and normally apply to health insurers for firms with less than 20 employees.
On the day before the qualifying event, a COBRA-eligible employee must be registered in a company-sponsored group health care plan. In the preceding calendar year, the insurance plan had to be effective on more than half of the employer’s regular business days.
For the departing employee to be eligible for COBRA, the firm must continue to offer a health plan to its current employees.
The departing employee may no longer be eligible for COBRA coverage if the employer goes out of business or stops supplying insurance to existing employees (for example, if the number of employees falls below 20).
The qualifying incident must result in the employee’s health insurance being terminated. The list of qualified beneficiaries is determined by the type of qualifying event, and the qualifications for each category of the beneficiary are different.
Employees are eligible for COBRA coverage provided they meet the following criteria:
- Job loss, whether voluntary or involuntary, such as the 2020 economic crisis (except in cases of gross misconduct)
- Employer insurance coverage is lost due to a reduction in the number of hours worked.
In addition to the two qualifying events listed above for employees, their spouses may be eligible for COBRA coverage provided the following criteria are met:
- When a covered employee divorces or legally separates from another covered employee, he or she becomes eligible for Medicare.
- Employee’s death is covered.
- In the event of divorce, legal separation, or a child’s loss of dependent status, the employee or beneficiaries must notify the plan.
- Children who are reliant
- Dependent children have the same qualifying events as their spouse, with one exception:
According to the plan’s provisions, the status of a dependent child is lost.
Within 30 days of the qualifying event that affects the employee, the employer must notify the plan. If the qualifying event is divorce, legal separation, or a child’s loss of dependent status, the employee or beneficiaries must notify the plan. 6
COBRA Benefits and Coverage Options
COBRA laws allow qualifying candidates to receive coverage that is identical to that provided to the employer’s present employees. Any changes to the benefits of the plan that affect active employees would also affect qualified beneficiaries. All COBRA beneficiaries must be able to make the same decisions as non-COBRA beneficiaries.
Under COBRA, the insurance coverage for current employees/beneficiaries is essentially the same as it is for ex-employees/beneficiaries. You must be allowed at least 60 days to decide whether or not you want to keep your coverage. You can change your mind about coverage even if you waive it within the 60-day election period.
COBRA coverage extends for a restricted period of 18 or 36 months from the date of the qualifying occurrence, depending on the applicable scenarios.
If any one of the qualified beneficiaries in the family becomes disabled and meets certain requirements, or if a second qualifying event occurs—potentially including the death of a covered employee, the legal separation of a covered employee and spouse, a covered employee becoming eligible for Medicare, or a covered employee losing dependent child status under the plan—the 18-month maximum period of continuation coverage can be extended.
COBRA Health Insurance Costs
The word “group rate” is sometimes misinterpreted as a discount, however, it can actually be quite costly.
During the course of work, the employer frequently pays a considerable amount of the actual health insurance premium (for example, an employer may pay 80% of premium costs), with the employee covering the rest.
Following employment, the individual is responsible for paying the entire premium, which may be supplemented with an additional 2% for administrative costs. For employees who haven’t had a qualifying occurrence, costs cannot exceed 102 percent of the plan’s cost. 8
As a result, even though group rates for the COBRA continuation plan are available during the post-employment term, the cost to the ex-employee may climb dramatically when compared to past insurance expenditures.
The cost is essentially the same, but it must be carried entirely by the person, with no contribution from the company.
COBRA may still be less expensive than other types of private health insurance. It’s crucial to compare it to the Affordable Care Act coverage that the former employee might be eligible for, especially if they qualify for a subsidy. The cost can be determined with precision by the human resources department of the firm.
If you lost your health insurance due to a job loss during the 2020 economic crisis, you are eligible for a 60-day “special enrollment” period on the federal exchanges. This could be a method to get insurance that is less expensive than COBRA.
COBRA Coverage Cancelled Too Soon
In the following situations, COBRA coverage may be terminated prematurely:
- Premiums are not paid on time if they are not paid on time.
- Employer’s decision to stop offering any type of group health plan
- A qualified beneficiary who gains coverage under a different group health plan (for example, through new employment), becomes eligible for Medicare benefits or engages in misconduct (such as fraud)
COBRA Advantages and Disadvantages
Individuals who choose COBRA coverage can keep their current doctor, health plan, and medical network providers. COBRA recipients keep their current coverage for pre-existing illnesses and prescription medicines.
The cost of the plan may be less than that of other typical plans, but it is preferable to being uninsured because it protects against significant medical expenditures that must be paid in the event of a disease.
Nonetheless, it’s crucial to remember COBRA’s drawbacks. The high cost of insurance when paid fully by the person, the restricted time of coverage under COBRA and the continuous reliance on the employer are just a few of them. An ex-employee or connected beneficiary will lose access to COBRA if the employer decides to stop providing coverage.
If a COBRA beneficiary’s employer changes his or her health insurance plan, he or she must accept the changes, even if the new plan isn’t the best fit for the individual’s needs. A new plan may alter the length of coverage and amount of services covered, as well as raise or cut deductibles and co-payments.
Individuals who are eligible for COBRA coverage should assess the benefits and drawbacks of COBRA against other available individual plans to find the best fit.
A potential COBRA beneficiary can also see if they qualify for other types of government assistance, such as Medicaid or other state or municipal programs.
However, such plans may be confined to low-income individuals and may not provide the greatest care and services available in comparison to other plans.
Healthy people may want to look into a low-cost healthcare discount plan. However, these plans do not count as insurance coverage, which can make it harder to obtain health insurance in the future because enrolling in one of these plans is regarded to have stopped insurance coverage.
Taking Care of a High COBRA Premium
If you’re considering COBRA coverage but are concerned about the expense of insurance coverage under this program vs insurance coverage with an employer’s backing, there are a few things to bear in mind.
When you leave your work, your flexible spending account is usually lost as well (FSA). If you’re about to lose your employment, you have until the end of the year to spend your whole FSA contribution before you lose your job.
If you planned to contribute $1,200 for the year but it’s only January and you’ve only had $100 deducted from your salary for your FSA, you can still spend the entire $1,200—for example, by seeing all of your doctors and filling all of your medications right away.
If you choose COBRA, you can switch to a less expensive plan like a preferred provider organization (PPO) or a health maintenance organization during the employer’s yearly open enrollment period (HMO).
Qualifying individuals can use a refundable tax credit called the Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC) to pay up to 72.5 percent of qualified health insurance premiums, including COBRA continuation coverage, if it is available. 11 The HCTC programme was set to expire on December 31, 2020, however it has been extended by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) until December 31, 2021.
Increased premiums may also be mitigated by tax deductions. COBRA premiums and any medical expenses over 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI) can be deducted on your federal tax return when you file your annual tax returns (but you must itemize your deductions on Schedule A).
You can save even more money by switching to generic pharmaceuticals or purchasing greater quantities at a reduced price, as well as visiting a low-cost community or retail clinic for basic healthcare services.
Finally, you can use cash from your health savings account (HSA) to pay COBRA payments and medical bills, perhaps alleviating the pain of losing your health insurance coverage.
It’s crucial to remember that paying your COBRA premiums on schedule is critical to keeping your coverage for the term of your eligibility.
Failure to make the initial premium payment within 45 days after the date of your COBRA election could result in the loss of your COBRA entitlements. Payments are usually made to cover a period that extends back to the date of the loss of coverage and the qualifying event that determined eligibility.