FAQ's about COBRA - COBRA Continuation Health Coverage

1. What is COBRA continuation health coverage?

Congress passed the landmark Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act health benefit provisions in 1986.  The law amends the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the Internal Revenue Code and the Public Health Service Act to provide continuation of group health coverage that otherwise might be terminated.

2. What does COBRA do?

COBRA contains provisions giving certain former employees, retirees, spouses former spouses, and dependent children the right to temporary continuation of health coverage at group rates.  This coverage, however, is only available when coverage is lost due to certain specific events.  Group health coverage for COBRA participants is usually more expensive than health coverage for active employees, since usually the employer pays a part of the premium for active employees while COBRA participants generally pay the entire premium themselves.  It is ordinarily less expensive, though, than individual health coverage.

3. Which employers are required to offer COBRA coverage?

Employers with 20 or more employees are usually required to offer COBRA coverage and to notify their employees of the availability of such coverage.  COBRA applies to plans maintained by private-sector employers and sponsored by most state and local governments.

4. Who is entitled to benefits under COBRA?

There are 3 elements to qualifying for COBRA benefits.  COBRA establishes specific criteria for plans, qualified beneficiaries, and qualifying events:

Plan Coverage - Group health plans for employers with 20 or more employees on more than 50 percent of its typical business days in the previous calendar year are subject to COBRA.  Both full and part-time employees are counted to determine whether a plan is subject to COBRA.  Each part-time employee counts as a fraction on an employee, with the fraction equal to the number of hours that the part-time employee worked divided by the hours an employee must work to be considered full-time.

Qualified Beneficiaries - A qualified beneficiary generally is an individual covered by a group health plan on the day before a qualifying event who is either an employee, the employee's spouse, or an employee's dependent child.  In certain cases, a retired employee, the retired employee's spouse, and the retired employee's dependent children may be qualified beneficiaries.  In addition, any child born to or placed for adoption with a covered employee during the period of COBRA coverage is considered a qualified beneficiary.  Agents, independent contractors, and directors who participate in the group health plan may also be qualified beneficiaries.

Qualifying Events - Qualifying events are certain events that would cause an individual to lose health coverage.  The type of qualifying event will determine who the qualified beneficiaries are and the amount of time that a plan must offer the health coverage to them under COBRA.  A plan, at its discretion,  may provide longer periods of continuation coverage.

The qualifying events for employees are:

  • Voluntary or involuntary termination of employment for reasons other than gross misconduct
  • Reduction in the number of hours of employment

The qualifying events for spouses are:

  • Voluntary or involuntary termination of the covered employee's employment for any reason other than gross misconduct
  • Reduction in the hours worked by the covered employee
  • Covered employee's becoming entitled to Medicare
  • Divorce or legal separation of the covered employee
  • Death of the covered employee

The qualifying events for dependent children are the same as for the spouse with one addition:

  • Loss of dependent child status under the plan rules

For more info and to read this posting in it's entirety please click on this link to visit the United States Department of Labor - Employee Benefits Security Administration site.