Extension of Maximum COBRA Coverage Period
By Danielle Capilla, Chief Compliance Officer for United Benefit Advisors
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) requires employers to offer covered employees who lose their health benefits due to a qualifying event to continue group health benefits for a limited time at the employee’s own cost. The length of the COBRA coverage period depends on the qualifying event and is usually 18 or 36 months. However, the COBRA coverage period may be extended under the following five circumstances:
- Multiple Qualifying Events
- Extended Notice Rule
- Pre-Termination or Pre-Reduction Medicare Entitlement
- Employer Extension; Employer Bankruptcy
In this blog, we’ll examine the first circumstance above. For a detailed discussion of all the circumstances, request UBA’s Compliance Advisor, “Extension of Maximum COBRA Coverage Period”.
When determining the coverage period under multiple qualifying events, the maximum coverage period for a loss of coverage due to a termination of employment and reduction of hours is 18 months. The maximum coverage period may be extended to 36 months if a second qualifying event or multiple qualifying events occur within the initial 18 months of COBRA coverage from the first qualifying event. The coverage period runs from the start of the original 18-month coverage period.
The first qualifying event must be termination of employment or reduction of hours, but the second qualifying cannot be termination of employment, reduction of hours, or bankruptcy. In order to qualify for the extension, the second qualifying event must be the covered employee’s death, divorce, or child ceasing to be a dependent. In addition, the extension is only available if the second qualifying event would have caused a loss of coverage for the qualified beneficiary if it occurred first.
The extended 36-month period is only for spouses and dependent children. In order to qualify for extended coverage, a qualified beneficiary must have elected COBRA during the first qualifying event and must have been receiving COBRA coverage at the time of the second event. The qualified beneficiary must notify the plan administrator of the second qualifying event within 60 days after the event.
Example: Jim was terminated on June 3, 2017. Then, he got divorced on July 6, 2017. Jim was eligible for COBRA continuation coverage for 18 months after his termination of employment (the first qualifying event). However, his divorce (the second qualifying event) extended his COBRA continuation coverage to 36 months because it occurred within the initial 18 months of COBRA coverage from his termination (the first qualifying event).
The health plan should indicate when the coverage period begins. The plan may provide that that the plan administrator be notified when plan coverage is lost as opposed to when the qualifying event occurs. In that case, the 36-month coverage period would begin on the date coverage was lost.