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What is COBRA health insurance?

And other commonly-asked questions

Chances are, you’ve heard of COBRA External Site and you know that it’s there for you if you need it. But beyond that, the details get a little fuzzy. Sound about right? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

COBRA, or The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, provides continued health insurance for a period of time to individuals and their families when group coverage is lost due to job loss, job transition, divorce, death, or other life events. It’s important that you understand some of the ins and outs of COBRA, should you ever need to use it, so follow along to learn more.

How do I enroll in COBRA coverage?

You will not be automatically enrolled in COBRA coverage. If you lose coverage due to loss of employment, your employer is responsible for administering COBRA for you. They will notify your health insurer of your employment change, and they will issue you a notice of eligibility and provide enrollment information. If you lose coverage due to death or divorce, you must provide notice of those life events to your health insurer. Once your health insurance carrier is notified of your qualifying event, you can begin the COBRA enrollment process.

How long does COBRA coverage last?

COBRA coverage lasts anywhere between 18 and 36 months, depending on the qualifying event. You have 60 days from the qualifying event to enroll in COBRA coverage. Be sure to check with your employer to understand the details of your specific situation.

Do my health insurance benefits change with COBRA? What about the health insurance company?

Your coverage and health insurance carrier will remain the same. Enrolling in COBRA does not change your plan, it just extends your health benefits after loss of coverage including any benefit accumulations you may have already satisfied. Additionally, dental or vision benefits you were previously enrolled in will continue with COBRA coverage.

How much do I pay for COBRA coverage?

Your costs will likely be higher than you were previously paying because most employers pay a portion of their employees' health insurance costs. But the cost of your plan won't increase. You may also incur some administrative fees to cover your employer's cost to administer your COBRA health insurance, but those fees shouldn't exceed 2 percent of the cost of your premium. Again, check with your employer to see what coverage costs look like.

How do I pay for my COBRA coverage?

Since employers typically deduct your health insurance contribution from your paycheck, check with your employer to determine the best payment options. Depending on the options available, you may be able to set up auto-pay from your bank account, or pay manually online or via mail.

Do I have to use COBRA coverage?

You’re not required to use your COBRA coverage option. You can always look into more affordable options or more robust coverage through the health insurance marketplace External Site or Medicaid External Site.

How do I end my COBRA coverage?

If you find a new job with health insurance provided or you find a plan that works better for you, you will need to notify your health insurer of your desire to cancel your COBRA coverage. The coverage does not automatically end upon enrollment in a new plan.

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield can help you learn about your health plan options

If you’ve recently enrolled in COBRA or lost your health insurance coverage, be sure to check out Wellmark’s plan offerings Opens New Window on the health insurance marketplace to find a plan that fits your budget and lifestyle.

To learn more about COBRA coverage and review even more frequently asked questions, please visit the United States Department of Labor Opens PDF.