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Checking on COBRA eligibility

Posted by Cheryl Costa  September 16, 2008 10:00 AM

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If my husband becomes eligible for Medicare, do I have 18 or 36 months of coverage from COBRA? Is this time a state by state variable or is it a federal guideline under the Department of Labor. The Department of Labor seems to say it is a 36 month option.

An employee becoming eligible for Medicare is a COBRA Qualifying Event and the spouse and dependent child(ren) of the employee are entitled to COBRA coverage for 36 months. However, it is important to note that not every employer is required to provide COBRA coverage. Exemptions exist for certain church-related organizations, firms with less than 20 employees and other categories of employers.

I suggest talking with your husband's benefits department and asking if COBRA coverage is available and for what period of time. Also, it probably wouldn't hurt to get the response in writing. It might seem obvious, but even if the employer has more than 20 employees, you can only get COBRA coverage if the employer offers health care coverage. Also, if your husband's employer only offered health coverage to certain groups of employees, and your husband was not a part of that group, you and your dependents would not be entitled to coverage.

If your husband worked for a large employer and was a full time employee with health care benefits, you should be all set but you should definitely double check because getting and keeping this coverage is very important. Remember that your coverage under COBRA will end if:

you fail to pay your premiums when due,
you reach the 36 month limit,
your husband's employer decides to discontinue its group coverage, or
your husband's employer ceases operations.

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