What Is Cobra Insurance?: What It Means And How It Works

What Is Cobra Insurance
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If you don’t have health insurance and you lose your job, you might not have any options. Maintaining coverage through COBRA insurance is one option, but doing so comes at a significant financial cost. It is in your best interest to have a thorough understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of COBRA health insurance, as well as its price, how to become eligible for it, the application deadlines, and the other options that should be considered. In this article, you will understand the COBRA insurance law, and how it works.

What Is Cobra Insurance?

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) is a health insurance policy that enables eligible workers and their dependents to continue receiving the financial advantages of health insurance coverage in the event that an employee leaves their job or has their work hours reduced.

Employers with 50 or more full-time workers in the United States have a responsibility to offer health insurance to their employees who meet certain criteria and pay for a portion of the premiums.

If an employee loses eligibility for health insurance benefits from their company, for whatever reason (such as being laid off or working fewer hours than the required minimum), the employer may stop contributing to the employee’s health insurance costs. If the worker and their dependents want to continue their health insurance coverage, but only for a temporary term, they can use COBRA to do so at their own expense.

Under COBRA, departing employees, their spouses, ex-spouses, and children under the age of 26 must be given the opportunity to continue their group health care at the same premiums as current employees. Since their former employers are no longer contributing to their health insurance premiums, the cost of COBRA coverage is likely to be higher than it was when they were still employed. However, it could still be cheaper than purchasing an individual policy.

COBRA is a health insurance policy that may pay for medical expenses like prescription medicines, dental work, and vision care. There is no provision to cover either life or disability insurance in this package.

How Does Cobra Insurance Work?

When your employment expires, you can continue your health insurance coverage via COBRA.

  • You may find out more about COBRA coverage through your employer, your insurance provider, or both. When you sign up for a health insurance plan, your insurance provider must tell you of your rights under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).
  • You have up to 60 days to make a decision on your COBRA health insurance continuation. Your health insurance will cease on the last day your company offers coverage unless you make other arrangements.
  • The date your COBRA coverage begins depends on when your previous employer’s plan coverage finishes. It will provide the same coverage as your previous group insurance plan at work. Your current plan allows you to keep your current doctors and other service providers.
  • The duration of COBRA insurance can be 18 or 36 months. The answer to this question is conditional on the nature of the occurrence that rendered you eligible for COBRA.
  • If you don’t pay your COBRA premiums insurance or other costs, your coverage may be canceled early. If you get a job with medical insurance before your coverage expires, you may have to cancel.

In addition, to get the most out of your COBRA insurance, it is important to familiarize yourself with the specifics of the coverage you have. Get in touch with your insurance company if you have any concerns.

The COBRA Health Insurance Eligibility Criteria

In order to qualify for COBRA insurance, workers must meet one of several sets of conditions. Employees must meet these requirements and, in most cases, qualify for COBRA coverage after the occurrence of one of the events listed below.

COBRA insurance is mandated by law for most businesses with 20 or more FTE employees. Employers can determine whether or not COBRA applies to them as a whole by adding up the hours worked by their part-time workers to determine how many of their workers qualify as full-time equivalents. Plans issued by private businesses and by the vast majority of state and municipal governments are covered under COBRA insurance. Also, legislation very much like COBRA protects federal workers.

Additionally, many jurisdictions also have their own laws that are quite similar to COBRA. Mini-COBRA plans are a type of health insurance that normally applies to companies with fewer than 20 employees.

An employee must be registered in a group health plan sponsored by the employer on the day before the qualifying event occurs for them to be eligible for COBRA continuation coverage. The insurance policy must have been in place for more than half of the usual business days experienced by the employer in the prior calendar year.

For a departing employee to be eligible for COBRA, the company must maintain health insurance coverage for its current employees. If the company the employee worked for goes out of business or if the number of employees decreases below 20, the former worker may no longer be eligible for COBRA continuation insurance.

In addition, a loss of health insurance due to the qualifying occurrence is necessary. Eligible beneficiaries are subject to different requirements depending on the nature of the qualifying event.

What Is the Advantage of Cobra?

Here are some of the benefits of COBRA insurance.

  • Under COBRA, you are entitled to the same health insurance coverage you would have if you were still an employee.
  • Eligible individuals include spouses, ex-spouses, and children.
  • If you lose your health insurance coverage and aren’t yet eligible for another plan, COBRA may be able to help.
  • If you don’t enroll in COBRA immediately, you have up to 60 days to do so. Backdated protection is included.
  • You can maintain seeing the same medical professionals and pharmacy as before while making claims.
  • COBRA might reduce your out-of-pocket expenses.
  • If you frequently travel out of state or maintain several residences, an employer-sponsored health plan may have a more extensive provider network than an individual plan.

It’s possible that the health benefits you received under your former employer’s group health plan would be unavailable to you whenever you switch to a private insurer or the Health Insurance Marketplace. Some group health plans provided by employers include benefits that are often only available through separate policies.

Laws governing Marketplace plans do not apply to maternity or childbirth benefits provided through an employer-sponsored group plan. In many cases, their advantages are superior. Keeping your employee benefits plan through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) is one option for doing so.

If you’ve already put in money toward your deductible and out-of-pocket maximums for the year, taking advantage of COBRA can save you the trouble of starting over. Doing so might help you save money.

What Is Cobra Insurance Cost?

It’s possible that a “group rate” advertised as a bargain is actually more expensive than the average rate offered to individuals. During the course of employment, the employer may cover a large percentage (up to 80% in some cases) of the cost of health insurance premiums, with the employee covering the remainder. The employee is responsible for the whole premium when employment ends, which may be increased by two percent to cover administrative costs. Employees who do not have a qualifying occurrence are limited to paying no more than 102 percent of the plan’s actual cost.

Therefore, the cost to the ex-employee may climb dramatically compared to earlier COBRA insurance expenses, notwithstanding the availability of the group rates for the COBRA continuation plan in the post-employment term. As a result, the employee is responsible for covering the full cost of COBRA insurance, with no assistance from the company.

When compared to alternative options for individual health insurance, COBRA may still be more affordable. Consider whether or whether the former employee is eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act and, if so, what level of subsidy they would receive. The human resources department of the company will have the most up-to-date pricing information.

During the “special enrollment” period on the federal exchanges in 2020, anyone who lost their health insurance due to job loss had 60 days to sign up. Possible alternative to COBRA insurance that might have been less expensive.

Who Started Cobra?

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) is a law that was passed by the United States Congress on a reconciliation basis and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. The law requires insurance companies to create a program that allows certain former employees to keep their health insurance coverage after leaving their employer. Changes to ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) are a part of COBRA as well.

Furthermore, title X of the Affordable Care Act is perhaps the most well-known provision of the law because it amends the Internal Revenue Code and the Public Health Service Act to prevent income tax deductions for contributions to a group health plan from employers (generally those with 20 or more full-time equivalent employees) unless such plan meets certain requirements. This provision affects a large number of industries and institutions, including tobacco price supports, railroads, private pension plans, emergency department treatment, disability insurance, and the postal service. The penalty for not complying with those standards was then converted to an excise tax.

Who Can Get Cobra Insurance and for How Long?

You have the right to continue coverage under the employer’s plan if you were already enrolled in it on the day before the qualifying event. All spouses and dependents, both current and previous, are covered under this provision. Every participant is eligible to receive their very own individual continuation coverage.

It’s possible that either federal or state law grants you this COBRA insurance privilege. The number of employees at your company (20 or more) and whether the group health plan is fully insured or self-insured will determine whether state law or federal law applies.

#1. Former Employee

In order to maintain health insurance coverage, a former employee must have been enrolled in the employer’s group health plan on the last day of employment. How long you’ve been with the company is irrelevant. In the absence of substantial misconduct on the job, employees are free to resign whenever they choose. Both federal and state law allows a former employee to remain on their old plan’s COBRA insurance for up to 18 months after employment ends or until they enroll in another group health insurance plan. Also, read Best Health Insurance For Unemployed In 2023

You do not have the option to choose continuation coverage if you met the requirements but did not receive participation in your employer’s group plan.

If a former worker becomes disabled during the first 60 days of enrolling in federal continuation coverage, he or she might extend that coverage by an additional 11 months, for a total of 29 months.

The federal government mandates that an employee who becomes disabled while on the job have insurance for up to 29 additional months. An employee who becomes totally incapacitated while working is allowed to continue participating in the group health plan indefinitely under Minnesota law.

#2. Spouse of a Former Employee

If the enrollee’s spouse was covered by the enrollee’s employer plan on the day before the qualifying event, the enrollee’s spouse may make a continuation election. The spouse may remain on the plan for up to 18 months, or until he or she is eligible for coverage under another group plan, whichever is longer, under federal and state law. Even if the former employee doesn’t opt for continuation COBRA insurance, their spouse still has the option to do so.

#3. Former or Surviving Spouse

A qualifying event could be the termination of an employee’s insurance due to divorce, legal separation, or the employee’s death. A spouse who was covered under an employer’s plan on the day before the qualifying event (such as a legal separation, divorce, or death) has the option to remain on the plan. The federal government mandates a maximum coverage period of 36 months. A former or widowed spouse in Minnesota can keep their health insurance until they are eligible for either Medicare or another group health plan.

#4. Dependent Children

In the case that a child’s insurance ends due to a qualifying occurrence, the child has the right to reinstatement. A qualifying event determines how long the continuation period will last.

  • Divorce or separation from marriage. Federal law allows for an extension of up to 36 months for dependent children. Until they become eligible for coverage under another group plan or age out of dependent status in Minnesota, they have the right to this benefit.
  • Employment Dismissal. Both federal and state laws allow for a maximum of 18 months of continued eligibility for dependent children.
  • Death of the insured worker. Insurance for dependent children may continue until they reach 26 years of age, become eligible for coverage under another group plan, or no longer qualify as dependents.
  • Disablement occurs on the job for a covered worker. Children who qualify as dependents under Minnesota law can continue to get the benefits they’re entitled to receive.
  • Federal law allows for a dependent kid’s continuation for a further 29 months if that youngster is disabled either at the time of the qualifying event or within 60 days of beginning continuation.
  • A child who is born to or adopted by a continuation participant is eligible to be added as a dependent to the participant’s continuation COBRA insurance under federal law.

What Are the Disadvantages of Cobra Insurance?

Here are the drawbacks of Cobra insurance.

  • COBRA insurance comes with a hefty cost.
  • You must decide whether to continue COBRA insurance coverage within 60 days.
  • COBRA plans typically have a duration of coverage between 18 and 36 months.
  • If you delay accepting COBRA, you will be responsible for paying premiums back to the date of your qualifying event. The guarantee is retroactive.
  • If your company’s health insurance plan changes, so will your COBRA coverage.
  • COBRA is not an option for all group insurance policies provided by employers.
  • Your plan may no longer be an option if you move to a state with a less extensive healthcare infrastructure.

The expense of continuing your health insurance under COBRA will exceed the premiums you paid while employed. The cost of employer-provided health insurance usually decreases by the employer’s contribution. Under COBRA, your former employer has no obligation to continue covering this cost. Your final price may also be higher because of an “administration fee” of 2% in some circumstances.

You’ll lose insurance if you don’t find a job or enroll in a new plan before your eligibility term ends. COBRA coverage is not indefinite. Between 18 and 36 months is the average maximum.

In addition, COBRA is not an option for all group insurance policies provided by employers. If you have fewer than 20 employees, your employer may not have to offer this.

How to Get Cobra Health Insurance After Leaving Your Job

Here are the steps to get COBRA insurance after leaving your job

#1. Leave a Large Company or Lower Your Hours

Employers with 20 or more workers in the private sector or state or local government give COBRA continuation insurance. Many states have legislation similar to COBRA in place to safeguard businesses with less than 20 workers. Workers who put in less than 40 hours a week are counted as half as many.

Furthermore, keep your health insurance for up to 18 months after leaving your work or having your hours reduced for reasons other than “gross misconduct,” so long as you keep paying your premiums.

There is, of course, a catch: Current employees only qualify if their employer still offers a health insurance plan. If your employer ceases operations for good or if your health insurance coverage option is no longer available, you will not be eligible for COBRA.

#2. Wait for a Letter in the Mail

If your employment ends due to a qualifying event, such as a reduction in hours or termination, your previous employer must inform the health insurance provider within 30 days. 

The plan administrator has 14 days to notify you of coverage, where to submit documents, and most importantly, payments. COBRA restrictions limit the maximum premium to 102% of a presently working person’s health insurance expense. That means you may have to pay the full premium, your employer’s contribution, and a 2% administrative fee.

If you need more information before getting a letter, contact the health plan administrator or benefits manager.

#3. Decide on a Health Insurance Plan Within 60 Days

There is a 60-day window for making a health coverage decision after getting an election notice. COBRA would apply to your spouse and children if they were also covered by your plan while you were employed. 

Please refer to the notice for information on how to make a coverage election.

#4. You Must Submit Payment Within 45 Days

You have 45 days from the date you mailed in your COBRA election form to pay the first month’s payment. Making your payments on time will shield you from not just the future but also the past. Also, if you fail to make the payment, you may lose your eligibility for COBRA benefits altogether.

After being laid off, coverage may remain for 18 months or longer if you retire, become disabled, die, or divorce. Your coverage could be canceled if you fail to pay your monthly premiums when due, your company quits providing a group health plan, you become eligible for Medicare, you enroll in another insurance plan, or you commit fraud or other dishonest behavior.

Alternatives to Cobra Insurance

COBRA isn’t your only option, and there may be cheaper alternatives. Here are some alternatives that could cost less:

#1. A Short-Term Health Plan

Although short-term health plans are frequently less expensive overall, they often fail to provide the same level of patient and consumer protection as long-term health plans. Short-term plans that include psychiatric treatment, prescription medicines, and pregnancy can be difficult to come by. Their out-of-pocket prices can be rather high. There are one-year plans with the option of two renewals. Some states limit short-term policy coverage.

#2. An ACA Marketplace Plan

The individual market is where you can shop around for the most affordable plan. ACA marketplace tax credits and subsidies may be available if your household income exceeds four times the federal poverty level. You might be able to find a non-market plan, but it won’t qualify for any government aid. Off-market plans are typically more expensive than an ACA subsidy plan, however, they may still be cheaper than COBRA.

#3. Medicaid

Medicaid is an income-based healthcare program that offers affordable coverage. Potentially low or even free premiums await those who qualify. Prior to enrolling in Medicaid, you should verify that your favorite medical professionals and facilities accept the plan in question.

#4. Your Spouse’s Employer’s Health Plan

This is probably the simplest solution. Since you have recently lost your employer-sponsored health insurance, you may be eligible for a special enrollment period in order to be added to your spouse’s plan. Your spouse’s plan will include you if you marry within that time frame. If you miss your employer’s enrollment window, you’ll have to enroll during the regular enrollment period.


In conclusion, after a job loss or significant life change, you may be eligible for COBRA continuation coverage to continue your group health care. However, the full premium is your responsibility, and an additional administrative fee is added on top of that. Look at alternate health care plans before committing to COBRA. If you are eligible for premium tax credits or cost-sharing subsidies, an ACA plan may be significantly more affordable.

Cobra Insurance FAQs

Why is COBRA so expensive?

In most cases, employers won’t chip in to assist a former worker pay for their COBRA coverage. COBRA coverage is costly since the individual must pay both the employee’s and employer’s share of the premiums.

Can you get COBRA if you quit your job?

COBRA coverage is available if you participate in the company’s group health care plan. After you leave your job, you are still able to obtain COBRA coverage from your former employer.

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