The Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) allows employees and their covered dependents to continue group health coverage under certain circumstances.
As of January 1, 2009, the State is using a COBRA third-party administrator (TPA). The TPA is responsible for sending COBRA notices, managing COBRA enrollment, billing and answering enrollment, payment and cancellation questions from COBRA enrollees.
Contact the COBRA Third-Party Administrator (TPA) at:
Phone – 1.877.725.4545 / Fax – 515-273-1545
Note: Your COBRA coverage will become effective once your first premium is received by the COBRA TPA. Coverage is retroactive once payment is received.
The Consolidated Omnibus
Budget Reconciliation Act
U.S. Department of Labor
Employee Benefits Security Administration
Revised September 2010
WHAT IS COBRA CONTINUATION COVERAGE?……………….2
WHO IS ENTITLED TO CONTINUATION COVERAGE?……….5
YOUR COBRA RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES:
NOTICE AND ELECTION PROCEDURES………………………….7
BENEFITS UNDER CONTINUATION COVERAGE…………….12 ..
DURATION OF CONTINUATION COVERAGE…………………..13.
CHART: SUMMARY OF QUALIFYING EVENTS,
QUALIFIED BENEFICIARIES, AND MAXIMUM
PERIODS OF CONTINUATION COVERAGE…………………….17
PAYING FOR CONTINUATION COVERAGE……………………..18.
HEALTH COVERAGE TAX CREDIT………………………………….20
COORDINATION WITH OTHER FEDERAL
ROLE OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT………………………..24
Health insurance programs help workers and their families take care of
their essential medical needs. These programs can be one of the most
important benefits provided by an employer.
There was a time when employer-provided group health coverage was
at risk if an employee was fired, changed jobs, or got divorced. That
substantially changed in 1986 with the passage of the health benefit
provisions in the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act
(COBRA). Now, many employees and their families who would
lose group health coverage because of serious life events are able to
continue their coverage under the employer’s group health plan, at least
for limited periods of time.
This booklet explains your rights under COBRA to a temporary
extension of employer-provided group health coverage, called COBRA
This booklet is designed to:
Provide a general explanation of your COBRA rights and responsibilities;
Outline the COBRA rules that group health plans must follow;
Highlight your rights to benefits while you are receiving
COBRA continuation coverage.
What Is COBRA Continuation Coverage?
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA)
requires most group health plans to provide a temporary continuation of
group health coverage that otherwise might be terminated.
COBRA requires continuation coverage to be offered to covered
employees, their spouses, their former spouses, and their dependent
children when group health coverage would otherwise be lost due
to certain specific events. Those events include the death of a
covered employee, termination or reduction in the hours of a covered
employee’s employment for reasons other than gross misconduct,
divorce or legal separation from a covered employee, a covered
employee’s becoming entitled to Medicare, and a child’s loss of
dependent status (and therefore coverage) under the plan.
Employers may require individuals who elect continuation coverage
to pay the full cost of the coverage, plus a 2 percent administrative
charge. The required payment for continuation coverage is often more
expensive than the amount that active employees are required to pay
for group health coverage, since the employer usually pays part of the
cost of employees’ coverage and all of that cost can be charged to the
individuals receiving continuation coverage. The COBRA payment
is ordinarily less expensive, though, than individual health coverage.
While COBRA continuation coverage must be offered, it lasts only
for a limited period of time. This booklet will discuss all of these
provisions in more detail.
COBRA generally applies to all group health plans maintained by
private-sector employers (with at least 20 employees) or by state
and local governments. The law does not apply, however, to plans
sponsored by the Federal government or by churches and certain
Under COBRA, a group health plan is any arrangement that an
employer establishes or maintains to provide employees or their
families with medical care, whether it is provided through insurance,
by a health maintenance organization, out of the employer’s assets on
a pay-as-you-go basis, or otherwise. “Medical care” for this purpose
Inpatient and outpatient hospital care;
Surgery and other major medical benefits;
Dental and vision care.
Life insurance is not considered “medical care,” nor are disability
benefits; and COBRA does not cover plans that provide only life
insurance or disability benefits.
Group health plans covered by COBRA that are sponsored by privatesector
employers generally are governed by ERISA. ERISA does not
require employers to establish plans or to provide any particular type
or level of benefits, but it does require plans to comply with ERISA’s
rules. ERISA gives participants and beneficiaries rights that are
enforceable in court.
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. One option may be “special
enrollment” into other group health coverage.
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. To special enroll, you or your dependent must request special
enrollment within 30 days of the loss of other coverage.
If you or your dependent chooses to elect COBRA continuation
coverage instead of special enrollment, you will have another
opportunity to request special enrollment once you have exhausted
your continuation coverage. In order to exhaust COBRA continuation
coverage, you or your dependent must receive the maximum period of
continuation coverage available without early termination. You must
request special enrollment within 30 days of the loss of continuation
Another option may be to buy an individual health insurance policy.
HIPAA gives individuals who are losing group health coverage and
who have at least 18 months of creditable coverage without a break
in coverage of 63 days or more the right to buy individual health
insurance coverage that does not impose a preexisting condition
exclusion period. For this purpose, most health coverage, including
COBRA continuation coverage, is creditable coverage. These special
rights may not be available to you if you do not elect and receive
continuation coverage. For more information on your right to buy
individual health insurance coverage, contact your state department of
In addition, individuals in a family may be eligible for health insurance
coverage through various government programs, such as Pre-Existing
Condition Insurance Plans and the Children’s Health Insurance
Program. For more information, visit http://www.healthcare.gov/law/
provisions/preexisting/index.html and www.insurekidsnow.gov or
contact your state department of insurance
Who Is Entitled to Continuation
There are three basic requirements that must be met in order for you to
be entitled to elect COBRA continuation coverage:
Your group health plan must be covered by COBRA;
A qualifying event must occur; and You must be a qualified beneficiary for that event.
COBRA covers group health plans sponsored by an employer (privatesector
or state/local government) that employed at least 20 employees
on more than 50 percent of its typical business days in the previous
calendar year. 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 of a full-time 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.
“Qualifying events” are events that cause an individual to lose his or
her group health coverage. The type of qualifying event determines
who the qualified beneficiaries are for that event and the period of time
that a plan must offer continuation coverage. COBRA establishes only
the minimum requirements for continuation coverage. A plan may
always choose to provide longer periods of continuation coverage.
The following are qualifying events for a covered employee if they
cause the covered employee to lose coverage : Termination of the employee’s employment for any reason other than “gross misconduct”; or Reduction in the number of hours of employment.
The following are qualifying events for the spouse and dependent
child of a covered employee if they cause the spouse or dependent
child to lose coverage:
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 becomes entitled to Medicare; Divorce or legal separation of the spouse from the covered employee; or Death of the covered employee.
In addition to the above, the following is a qualifying event for a dependent child
of a covered employee if it causes the child to lose coverage:
Loss of “dependent child” status under the plan rules.
A qualified beneficiary is an individual who was covered by a group
health plan on the day before a qualifying event occurred that caused
him or her to lose coverage. Only certain individuals can become
qualified beneficiaries due to a qualifying event, and the type of
qualifying event determines who can become a qualified beneficiary
when it happens. (See “Qualifying Events” earlier in this booklet.)
A qualified beneficiary must be a covered employee, the employee’s
spouse or former spouse, or the employee’s dependent child. In certain
cases involving the bankruptcy of the employer sponsoring the plan,
a retired employee, the retired employee’s spouse (or former 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 a period of continuation coverage is
automatically considered a qualified beneficiary. Agents, independent
contractors, and directors who participate in the group health plan may
also be qualified beneficiaries.
Your COBRA Rights and Responsibilities:
Notice and Election Procedures
Under COBRA, group health plans must provide covered employees
and their families with certain notices explaining their COBRA rights.
They must also have rules for how COBRA continuation coverage is
offered, how qualified beneficiaries may elect continuation coverage,
and when it can be terminated.
Summary Plan Description
The COBRA rights provided under the plan must be described in
the plan’s summary plan description (SPD). The SPD is a written
document that gives important information about the plan, including
what benefits are available under the plan, the rights of participants and
beneficiaries under the plan, and how the plan works. ERISA requires
group health plans to give you an SPD within 90 days after you first
become a participant in a plan (or within 120 days after the plan is
first subject to the reporting and disclosure provisions of ERISA).
In addition, if there are material changes to the plan, the plan must
give you a summary of material modifications (SMM) not later than
210 days after the end of the plan year in which the changes become
effective; if the change is a material reduction in covered services or
benefits, the SMM must be furnished not later than 60 days after the
reduction is adopted. A participant or beneficiary covered under the
plan may request a copy of the SPD and any SMMs (as well as any
other plan documents), which must be provided within 30 days of a
COBRA General Notice
Group health plans must give each employee and each spouse who
becomes covered under the plan a general notice describing COBRA
rights. The general notice must be provided within the first 90 days of
coverage. Group health plans can satisfy this requirement by giving
you the plan’s SPD within this time period, as long as it contains the
general notice information. The general notice should contain the
information that you need to know in order to protect your COBRA
rights when you first become covered under the plan, including the
name of the plan and someone you can contact for more information,
a general description of the continuation coverage provided under
the plan, and an explanation of any notices you must give the plan to
protect your COBRA rights.
COBRA Qualifying Event Notices
Before a group health plan must offer continuation coverage, a
qualifying event must occur, and the group health plan must be notified
of the qualifying event. Who must give notice of the qualifying event
depends on the type of qualifying event.
The employer must notify the plan if the qualifying event is:Termination or reduction in hours of employment of the
Death of the covered employee;
Covered employee’s becoming entitled to Medicare; or
Bankruptcy of the employer.
The employer has 30 days after the event occurs to provide notice to
You (the covered employee or one of the qualified beneficiaries) must notify the plan if the qualifying event is:
• Legal separation; or
• A child’s loss of dependent status under the plan.
You should understand your plan’s rules for how to provide notice if
one of these qualifying events occurs. The plan must have procedures
for how to give notice of the qualifying event, and the procedures
should be described in both the general notice and the plan’s SPD. The
plan can set a time limit for providing this notice, but the time limit
cannot be shorter than 60 days, starting from the latest of:
(1) the date on which the qualifying event occurs; (2) the date on which
you lose (or would lose) coverage under the plan as a result of the
qualifying event; or (3) the date on which you are informed, through
the furnishing of either the SPD or the COBRA general notice, of the
responsibility to notify the plan and the procedures for doing so.
If your plan does not have reasonable procedures for how to give notice
of a qualifying event, you can give notice by contacting the person or
unit that handles your employer’s employee benefits matters. If your
plan is a multiemployer plan, notice can also be given to the joint board
of trustees, and, if the plan is administered by an insurance company
(or the benefits are provided through insurance), notice can be given to
the insurance company.
COBRA Election Notice
When the plan receives a notice of a qualifying event, the plan must
give the qualified beneficiaries an election notice, which describes
their rights to continuation coverage and how to make an election. The
notice must be provided to the qualified beneficiaries within 14 days
after the plan administrator receives the notice of a qualifying event.
The election notice should contain all of the information you will need
to understand continuation coverage and make an informed decision
whether or not to elect continuation coverage. It should also give you
the name of the plan’s COBRA administrator and tell you how to get
COBRA Notice of Unavailability of Continuation Coverage
Group health plans may sometimes deny a request for continuation
coverage or for an extension of continuation coverage. If you or
any member of your family requests continuation coverage and the
plan determines that you or your family member is not entitled to the
requested continuation coverage for any reason, the plan must give
the person who requested it a notice of unavailability of continuation
coverage. The notice must be provided within 14 days after the request
is received, and the notice must explain the reason for denying the
COBRA Notice of Early Termination of Continuation Coverage
Continuation coverage must generally be made available for a
maximum period (18, 29, or 36 months). The group health plan may
terminate continuation coverage earlier, however, for any number
of specific reasons. (See “Duration of Continuation Coverage” later
in this booklet). When a group health plan decides to terminate
continuation coverage early for any of these reasons, the plan must give
the qualified beneficiary a notice of early termination. The notice must
be given as soon as practicable after the decision is made, and it must
describe the date coverage will terminate, the reason for termination,
and any rights the qualified beneficiary may have under the plan or
applicable law to elect alternative group or individual coverage, such as
a right to convert to an individual policy.
Special Rules for Multiemployer Plans
Multiemployer plans are allowed to adopt some special rules for
COBRA notices. First, a multiemployer plan may adopt its own
uniform time limits for the qualifying event notice or the election
notice. A multiemployer plan also may choose not to require employers
to provide qualifying event notices, and instead to have the plan
administrator determine when a qualifying event has occurred.
Any special multiemployer plan rules must be set out in the plan’s
documents (and SPD).
If you become entitled to elect COBRA continuation coverage, you
must be given an election period of at least 60 days (starting on the
later of the date you are furnished the election notice or the date you
would lose coverage) to choose whether or not to elect continuation
Each of the qualified beneficiaries for a qualifying event may
independently elect continuation coverage. This means that if both you
and your spouse are entitled to elect continuation coverage, you each
may decide separately whether to do so. The covered employee or the
spouse must be allowed, however, to elect on behalf of any dependent
children or on behalf of all of the qualified beneficiaries. A parent or
legal guardian may elect on behalf of a minor child.
If you waive continuation coverage during the election period, you
must be permitted later to revoke your waiver of coverage and to elect
continuation coverage as long as you do so during the election period.
Under those circumstances, the plan need only provide continuation
coverage beginning on the date you revoke the waiver.
The Trade Adjustment Assistance Act of 2002 amended COBRA
to provide certain workers who lose their jobs due to the effects of
international trade and who qualify for trade adjustment assistance
(TAA) with a second opportunity to elect COBRA continuation
coverage. For more information about the operation and scope of the
second COBRA election opportunity created by the Trade Act, call the
HCTC Customer Contact Center at 1-866-628-HCTC (4282) (TDD/
TTY: 1-866-626-HCTC (4282)). You may also visit the HCTC Program
Web site at www.irs.gov by entering the keyword: “HCTC.”
Benefits Under Continuation Coverage
If you elect continuation coverage, the coverage you are given must be
identical to the coverage that is currently available under the plan to
similarly situated active employees and their families (generally, this
is the same coverage that you had immediately before the qualifying
event). You will also be entitled, while receiving continuation
coverage, to the same benefits, choices, and services that a similarly
situated participant or beneficiary is currently receiving under the plan,
such as the right during an open enrollment season to choose among
available coverage options. You will also be subject to the same
rules and limits that would apply to a similarly situated participant
or beneficiary, such as co-payment requirements, deductibles, and
coverage limits. The plan’s rules for filing benefit claims and appealing
any claims denials also apply.
Any changes made to the plan’s terms that apply to similarly situated
active employees and their families will also apply to qualified
beneficiaries receiving COBRA continuation coverage. If a child
is born to or adopted by a covered employee during a period of
continuation coverage, the child is automatically considered to be a
qualified beneficiary receiving continuation coverage. You should
consult your plan for the rules that apply for adding your child to
continuation coverage under those circumstances.
Duration of Continuation Coverage
COBRA requires that continuation coverage extend from the date of
the qualifying event for a limited period of time of 18 or 36 months.
The length of time for which continuation coverage must be made
available (the “maximum period” of continuation coverage) depends
on the type of qualifying event that gave rise to the COBRA rights. A
plan, however, may provide longer periods of coverage beyond the
maximum period required by law.
When the qualifying event is the covered employee’s termination
of employment or reduction in hours of employment, qualified
beneficiaries are entitled to a maximum of
18 months of continuation coverage.
When the qualifying event is the end of employment or reduction of
the employee’s hours, and the employee became entitled to Medicare
less than 18 months before the qualifying event, COBRA coverage for
the employee’s spouse and dependents can last until 36 months after
the date the employee becomes entitled to Medicare. For example,
if a covered employee becomes entitled to Medicare 8 months before
the date his/her employment ends (termination of employment is the
COBRA qualifying event), COBRA coverage for his/her spouse and
children would last 28 months (36 months minus 8 months).
For all other qualifying events, qualified beneficiaries are entitled to a
maximum of 36 months of continuation coverage.1
1 Under COBRA, certain retirees and their family members who receive post-retirement
health coverage from employers have special COBRA rights in the event that the
employer is involved in bankruptcy proceedings begun on or after July 1, 1986. This
booklet does not fully describe the COBRA rights of that group.
A group health plan may terminate continuation coverage earlier than
the end of the maximum period for any of the following reasons:
Premiums are not paid in full on a timely basis;
the employer ceases to maintain any group health plan;
A qualified beneficiary begins coverage under another group health plan after electing continuation coverage, as long as that plan doesn’t impose an exclusion or limitation affecting a preexisting condition of the qualified beneficiary;
A qualified beneficiary becomes entitled to Medicare benefits after electing continuation coverage; or
A qualified beneficiary engages in conduct that would justify the
plan in terminating coverage of a similarly situated participant or
beneficiary not receiving continuation coverage (such as fraud).
If continuation coverage is terminated early, the plan must provide
the qualified beneficiary with an early termination notice. (See “Your
COBRA Rights and Responsibilities” earlier in this booklet.)
Extension of an 18-month Period of Continuation Coverage
If you are entitled to an 18-month maximum period of continuation
coverage, you may become eligible for an extension of the maximum
time period in two circumstances. The first is when a qualified
beneficiary (either you or a family member) is disabled; the second is
when a second qualifying event occurs.
If any one of the qualified beneficiaries in your family is disabled and
meets certain requirements, all of the qualified beneficiaries receiving
continuation coverage due to a single qualifying event are entitled to an
11-month extension of the maximum period of continuation coverage (for
a total maximum period of 29 months of continuation coverage). The
plan can charge qualified beneficiaries an increased premium, up to 150
percent of the cost of coverage, during the 11-month disability extension.
The requirements are, first, that the disabled qualified beneficiary
must be determined by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to
be disabled at some time before the 60th day of continuation coverage
and, second, that the disability must continue during the rest of the
18-month period of continuation coverage.
The disabled qualified beneficiary or another person on his or her
behalf must also notify the plan of the SSA determination. The plan
can set a time limit for providing this notice of disability, but the time
limit cannot be shorter than 60 days, starting from the latest of: (1) the
date on which SSA issues the disability determination; (2) the date on
which the qualifying event occurs; (3) the date on which the qualified
beneficiary loses (or would lose) coverage under the plan as a result of
the qualifying event; or (4) the date on which the qualified beneficiary
is informed, through the furnishing of the SPD or the COBRA general
notice, of the responsibility to notify the plan and the procedures for
The right to the disability extension may be terminated if the SSA
determines that the disabled qualified beneficiary is no longer disabled.
The plan can require qualified beneficiaries receiving the disability
extension to notify it if the SSA makes such a determination, although
the plan must give the qualified beneficiaries at least 30 days after the
SSA determination to do so.
The rules for how to give a disability notice and a notice of no longer
being disabled should be described in the plan’s SPD (and in the
election notice if you are offered an 18-month maximum period of
Second Qualifying Event
If you are receiving an 18-month maximum period of continuation
coverage, you may become entitled to an 18-month extension (giving
a total maximum period of 36 months of continuation coverage) if
you experience a second qualifying event that is the death of a covered
employee, the divorce or legal separation of a covered employee and
spouse, a covered employee’s becoming entitled to Medicare, or a
loss of dependent child status under the plan. The second event can
be a second qualifying event only if it would have caused you to lose
coverage under the plan in the absence of the first qualifying event. If a
second qualifying event occurs, you will need to notify the plan.
The rules for how to give notice of a second qualifying event should
be described in the plan’s SPD (and in the election notice if you are
offered an 18-month maximum period of continuation coverage). The
plan can set a time limit for providing this notice, but the time limit
cannot be shorter than 60 days from the latest of: (1) the date on which
the qualifying event occurs; (2) the date on which you lose (or would
lose) coverage under the plan as a result of the qualifying event; or (3)
the date on which you are informed, through the furnishing of either the
SPD or the COBRA general notice, of the responsibility to notify the
plan and the procedures for doing so.
If your group health plan gives participants and beneficiaries whose
coverage under the plan terminates the option to convert from group
health coverage to an individual policy, the plan must give you the
same option when your maximum period of continuation coverage
ends. The conversion option must be offered not later than 180
days before your continuation coverage ends. The premium for an
individual conversion policy may be more expensive than the premium
of a group plan, and the conversion policy may provide a lower level
of coverage. You are not entitled to the conversion option, however,
if your continuation coverage is terminated before the end of the
maximum period for which it was made available.
SUMMARY OF QUALIFYING EVENTS, QUALIFIED
BENEFICIARIES, AND MAXIMUM PERIODS OF
The following chart shows the specific qualifying events, the qualified
beneficiaries who are entitled to elect continuation coverage, and the
maximum period of continuation coverage that must be offered, based
on the type of qualifying event.
Note that an event is a qualifying event only if it would cause the qualified beneficiary to lose coverage under the plan.
reasons other than
gross misconduct) or
reduction in hours of
or legal separation
Death of employee
Loss of “dependent
child” status under
2 In certain circumstances, qualified beneficiaries entitled to 18 months of continuation
coverage may become entitled to a disability extension of an additional 11 months
(for a total maximum of 29 months) or an extension of an additional 18 months due to
the occurrence of a second qualifying event (for a total maximum of 36 months). (See
“Duration of Continuation Coverage” earlier in this booklet.)
Paying for Continuation Coverage
Your group health plan can require you to pay for COBRA continuation
coverage. The amount charged to qualified beneficiaries cannot exceed
102 percent of the cost to the plan for similarly situated individuals
covered under the plan who have not incurred a qualifying event. In
determining COBRA premiums, the plan can include the costs paid
by employees and the employer, plus an additional 2 percent for
administrative costs. For qualified beneficiaries receiving the 11-month disability extension,
the COBRA premium for those additional months may be increased to
150 percent of the plan’s total cost of coverage for similarly situated
COBRA charges to qualified beneficiaries may be increased if the
cost to the plan increases but generally must be fixed in advance of
each 12-month premium cycle. The plan must allow you to pay the
required premiums on a monthly basis if you ask to do so, and the
plan may allow you to make payments at other intervals (for example,
weekly or quarterly). The election notice should contain all of the
information you need to understand the COBRA premiums you will
have to pay, when they are due, and the consequences of late payment
When you elect continuation coverage, you cannot be required to send
any payment with your election form. You can be required, however,
to make an initial premium payment within 45 days after the date of
your COBRA election (that is the date you mail in your election form,
if you use first-class mail). Failure to make any payment within that
period of time could cause you to lose all COBRA rights. The plan
can set premium due dates for successive periods of coverage (after
your initial payment), but it must give you the option to make monthly
payments, and it must give you a 30-day grace period for payment of
You should be aware that if you do not pay a premium by the first day
of a period of coverage, but pay the premium within the grace period 19 for that period of coverage, the plan has the option to cancel your
coverage until payment is received and then reinstate the coverage
retroactively back to the beginning of the period of coverage. Failure
to make payment in full before the end of a grace period could cause
you to lose all COBRA rights.
If the amount of a payment made to the plan is wrong, but is not
significantly less than the amount due, the plan is required to notify
you of the deficiency and grant a reasonable period (for this purpose,
30 days is considered reasonable) to pay the difference. The plan is not
obligated to send monthly premium notices.
Health Coverage Tax Credit
Certain individuals may be eligible for a Federal income tax credit
that can alleviate the financial burden of monthly COBRA premium
payments. The Trade Adjustment Assistance Act of 2002 (Trade
Act of 2002) created the Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC), an
advanceable, refundable tax credit for up to 65 percent of the premiums
paid for specified types of health insurance coverage (including
COBRA continuation coverage). The HCTC is available to certain
workers who lose their jobs due to the effects of international trade and
who qualify for trade adjustment assistance (TAA), as well as to certain
individuals who are receiving pension payments from the Pension
Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). Individuals who are eligible
for the HCTC may choose to have the amount of the credit paid on a
monthly basis to their health coverage provider as it becomes due, or
may claim the tax credit on their income tax returns at the end of the
The Trade Adjustment Assistance Health Coverage Improvement Act of
2009, enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
(ARRA), made changes to the HCTC.
The HCTC now pays a greater portion of your health insurance. The tax
credit increased to 80 percent of qualified health insurance premiums.
Newly-enrolled participants can request to receive a reimbursement
or a credit on their HCTC account for qualified payments made while
enrolling in the HCTC Program.
The HCTC is available to your family members for a longer period of
time beginning in January 2010. Your family may continue receiving
the HCTC for up to 24 months after you, the primary eligible
individual, enroll in Medicare, get divorced or die.
COBRA coverage also is temporarily extended for HCTC-eligible
individuals. TAA-eligible individuals can keep COBRA coverage as
long as they continue to be TAA-eligible.
PBGC-eligible individuals may be able to retain their COBRA
coverage until death. The PBGC-eligible individual’s spouse and
dependents can keep the coverage for an additional 24 months beyond
that. However, note that this provision, like the rest of the Trade
Adjustment Assistance Health Coverage Improvement Act, expires on
December 31, 2010. At the time of this printing, these changes to the
HCTC – including the new timeframes for extended benefits – are only
valid through December 31, 2010.
Electing the COBRA premium reduction under ARRA disqualifies
you for the HCTC. If you are eligible for the HCTC, which could be
more valuable than the premium reduction, you will have received a
notification from the IRS. If you are already receiving the COBRA
premium reduction and wish to receive the HCTC, you can switch
by opting out of the COBRA premium reduction program prior to
registering for the HCTC program. You cannot receive the COBRA
premium reduction and the HCTC in the same month.
For more information about the Health Coverage Tax Credit, call the
HCTC Customer Contact Center at 1-866-628-HCTC (4282) (TDD/
TTY: 1-866-626-HCTC (4282)). You may also visit the HCTC program
Web site at www.irs.gov by entering the keyword: “HCTC.”
COORDINATION WITH OTHER FEDERAL BENEFIT LAWS
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires an employer
to maintain coverage under any “group health plan” for an employee
on FMLA leave under the same conditions coverage would have
been provided if the employee had continued working. Group health
coverage that is provided under the FMLA during a family or medical
leave is NOT COBRA continuation coverage, and taking FMLA leave
is not a qualifying event under COBRA. A COBRA qualifying event
may occur, however, when an employer’s obligation to maintain health
benefits under FMLA ceases, such as when an employee taking FMLA
leave decides not to return to work and notifies an employer of his or
her intent not to return to work.
In considering whether to elect continuation coverage, you should take
into account that maintaining group health coverage affects your future
rights to protections provided under HIPAA. HIPAA limits the length
of any preexisting condition exclusion that a group health plan may
impose and generally requires any exclusion period to be reduced by
an individual’s number of days of creditable coverage that occurred
without a break in coverage of 63 days or more. For this purpose, most
health coverage, including COBRA coverage, is creditable coverage.
Electing COBRA may help you avoid a 63-day break in coverage
and, therefore, help you eliminate or shorten any future preexisting
condition exclusion period that may be applied by a future group health
plan, health insurance company, or HMO.
HIPAA also provides special enrollment rights upon the loss of group
health plan coverage and rights to buy individual coverage that does not
impose a preexisting condition exclusion period as described earlier in
this book (See “Alternatives to COBRA Continuation Coverage”).
To take advantage of some of HIPAA’s protections, individuals
must show evidence of prior creditable coverage. The primary
way individuals can evidence prior creditable coverage to reduce
a preexisting condition exclusion period (or to gain other access to
individual health coverage) is with a certificate of creditable coverage.
HIPAA requires group health plans, health insurance companies, and
HMOs to furnish a certificate of creditable coverage to an individual
upon cessation of coverage. A certificate of creditable coverage must
be provided automatically to individuals entitled to elect COBRA
continuation coverage no later than when a notice is required to be
provided for a qualifying event under COBRA, and to individuals who
elected COBRA coverage, either within a reasonable time after learning
that the COBRA coverage has ceased or within a reasonable time after
the end of the grace period for payment of COBRA premiums. If you
do not receive or you lose your certificate and cannot obtain another,
you can still show prior coverage using other evidence of prior health
coverage (for example, pay stubs, copies of premium payments, or
other evidence of health care coverage). For more information about
evidencing prior health coverage or your rights under HIPAA, contact
EBSA toll free at 1-866-444-3272.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides additional health protections.
Except for references to the PCIPs, this publication does not reflect the
Affordable Care Act. For more information, visit the Department of
Labor’s Web page at www.dol.gov/ebsa/healthreform/. Also visit the
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Web site at
ROLE OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
COBRA continuation coverage laws are administered by several
agencies. The Departments of Labor and the Treasury have jurisdiction
over private-sector group health plans. The Department of Health and
Human Services administers the continuation coverage law as it affects
public-sector health plans.
The Labor Department’s interpretive responsibility for COBRA is
limited to the disclosure and notification requirements of COBRA.
The Labor Department has issued regulations on the COBRA notice
provisions. The Treasury Department has interpretive responsibility
to define the required continuation coverage. The Internal Revenue
Service, Department of the Treasury, has issued regulations on
COBRA provisions relating to eligibility, coverage, and payment.
The Departments of Labor and the Treasury share jurisdiction for
enforcement of these provisions.
If you need further information about COBRA, ERISA, or HIPAA,
call toll free 1-866-444-3272 to reach the Employee Benefits Security
Administration regional office nearest you, or visit the agency’s Web
site at www.dol.gov/ebsa.
For information about the interaction of COBRA and HIPAA, visit the
EBSA Web site, go to “Publications and Reports” and click on
Health Plan and HIPAA…Making the Law Work for You
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services offer information
about COBRA provisions for public-sector employees. You can write
them at this address:
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
7500 Security Boulevard
Mail Stop C1-22-06
Baltimore, MD 21244-1850
Federal employees are covered by a Federal law similar to COBRA.
Those employees should contact the personnel office serving their
agency for more information on temporary extensions of health
Further information on FMLA is available from the nearest office of
the Wage and Hour Division, listed in most telephone directories under
U.S. Government, Department of Labor, or visit www.dol.gov/whd.
For questions about TAA, call the HCTC Customer Contact Center
at 1-866-628-HCTC (4282) (TDD/TTY: 1-866-626-HCTC (4282)).
You may also visit the HCTC Web site at www.irs.gov by entering the keyword “HCTC.”
U.S. Department of Labor
Employee Benefits Security Administration