Alternatives to COBRA Continuation Coverage
If you become entitled to elect COBRA continuation coverage when you otherwise would lose group health coverage under a group health plan, you should consider all options you may have to get other health coverage before you make your decision. There may be more affordable or more generous coverage options for you and your family through other group health plan coverage (such as a spouse’s plan), the Health Insurance Marketplace, or Medicaid.
Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), if you or your dependents are losing eligibility for group health coverage, including eligibility for continuation coverage, you may have a right to special enroll (enroll without waiting until the next open season for enrollment) in other group health coverage. For example, an employee losing eligibility for group health coverage may be able to special enroll in a spouse’s plan. A dependent losing eligibility for group health coverage may be able to enroll in a different parent’s group health plan. To have a special enrollment opportunity, you or your dependent must have had other health coverage when you previously declined coverage in the plan in which you now want to enroll. You must request special enrollment within 30 days from the loss of your job-based coverage.
Losing your job-based health coverage is also a special enrollment event in the Health Insurance Marketplace (Marketplace). The Marketplace offers “one-stop shopping” to find and compare private health insurance options. In the Marketplace, you could be eligible for a tax credit that lowers your monthly premiums and cost-sharing reductions (amounts that lower your out-of-pocket costs for deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments) and you can see what your premium, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs will be before you make a decision to enroll.
Eligibility for COBRA continuation coverage won’t limit your eligibility for Marketplace coverage or for a tax credit. You can apply for Marketplace coverage at HealthCare.gov or by calling 1-800-318-2596 (TTY 1-855-889- 4325). To qualify for special enrollment in a Marketplace plan, you must select a plan within 60 days before or 60 days after losing your job-based coverage. In addition, during an open enrollment period, anyone can enroll in Marketplace coverage. If you need health coverage in the time between losing your job-based coverage and beginning coverage through the Marketplace (for example, if you or a family member needs medical care), you may wish to elect COBRA coverage from your former employer’s plan. COBRA continuation coverage will ensure you have health coverage until the coverage through your Marketplace plan begins.
Through the Marketplace you can also learn if you qualify for free or low-cost coverage from Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). You can apply for and enroll in Medicaid or CHIP any time of year. If you qualify, your coverage begins immediately. Visit HealthCare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596 (TTY 1-855-889-4325) for more information or to apply for these programs. You can also apply for Medicaid by contacting your state Medicaid office and learn more about the CHIP program in your state by calling 1-877-KIDS NOW (543-7669) or visiting nsurekidsnow.gov on the Web.
If you or your dependent elects COBRA continuation coverage, you will have another opportunity to request special enrollment in a group health plan or a Marketplace plan if you have a new special enrollment event, such as marriage, the birth of a child, or if you exhaust your continuation coverage. To exhaust COBRA continuation coverage, you or your dependent must receive the maximum period of continuation coverage available without early termination. Keep in mind if you choose to terminate your COBRA continuation coverage early with no special enrollment opportunity at that time, you generally will have to wait to enroll in other coverage until the next open enrollment period for the new group health plan or the Marketplace.