In the United States, workers and their families that have employer-sponsored group health insurance have the right to continue that insurance if it were to stop due to job loss or a change in the immediate family. This right is protected by the Federal COBRA Act that requires businesses with 20 or more employees to offer those benefits when they end.
Massachusetts Has Mini-COBRA
Similar to the federal COBRA measure, in 1996, Massachusetts adopted a “mini-COBRA” law that further extends health insurance continuation to employees of companies with 2 – 19 workers. COBRA applies to self-funded and group plans offered by employers with 20 or more employees. Mini-COBRA does not apply to self-funded plans.
Employees of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Group Insurance Commission
Example of Election Notice
You are receiving this notice because the Group Insurance Commission (GIC) has been informed that your current GIC coverage is ending due either to; (1) end of employment, (2) reduction in hours of employment, (3) death of employee/retiree, (4) divorce or legal separation, or (5) loss of dependent child status. This notice contains important information about your right to temporarily continue your health care coverage in the Group Insurance Commission’s (GIC’s) health plan through a federal law known as the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA). If you elect to continue your coverage, COBRA coverage will begin on the first day of the month immediately after your current GIC coverage ends. You must complete the enclosed Election Form and return it to the GIC by no later than 60 days after the date of this notice by sending it by mail to the Public Information Unit at the GIC at P.O. Box 8747, Boston, MA 02114 or by hand delivery to the GIC, 19 Staniford Street, 4th floor, Boston, MA 02114. If you do not submit a completed election form by this deadline, you will lose your right to elect COBRA coverage. WHAT IS COBRA COVERAGE? COBRA is a federal law under which certain former employees, retirees, spouses, former spouses and dependent children have the right to temporarily continue their existing group health coverage at group rates when group coverage otherwise would end due to certain life events, called ‘Qualifying Events.’ If you elect COBRA coverage, you are entitled to the same coverage being provided under the GIC’s plan to similarly situated employees or dependents. The GIC administers COBRA coverage. This notice explains your COBRA rights and what you need to do to protect your right to receive it. If you have questions about COBRA coverage, contact the GIC’s Public Information Unit at 617/727-2310, ext. 1 or write to the Unit at P.O. Box 8747, Boston, MA 02114. You may also contact the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration’s website at www.dol.gov/ebsa. WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR COBRA COVERAGE? Each individual entitled to COBRA (known as a “Qualified Beneficiary”) has an independent right to elect the coverage, regardless of whether or not other eligible family members elect it.Qualified Beneficiaries may elect to continue their group coverage that otherwise would end due to the following life events: If you are an employee of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or municipality covered by the GIC’s health benefits program, you have the right to choose COBRA coverage if:
- You lose your group health coverage because your hours of employment are reduced; or
- Your employment ends for reasons other than gross misconduct.
If you are the spouse of an employee covered by the GIC’s health benefits program, you have the right to choose COBRA coverage for yourself if you lose GIC health coverage for any of the following reasons (known as “qualifying events”):
- Your spouse dies;
- Your spouse’s employment with the Commonwealth or participating municipality ends for any reason other than gross misconduct or his/her hours of employment are reduced; or
- You and your spouse legally separate or divorce.
If you have dependent children who are covered by the GIC’s health benefits program, each child has the right to elect COBRA coverage if he or she loses GIC health coverage for any of the following reasons (known as “qualifying events”):
- The employee-parent dies;
- The employee-parent’s employment is terminated (for reasons other than gross misconduct) or the parent’s hours or employment are reduced;
- The parents legally separate or divorce; or
The dependent ceases to be a dependent child under GIC eligibility rules HOW LONG DOES COBRA COVERAGE LAST? By law, COBRA coverage must begin on the day immediately after your group health coverage otherwise would end. If your group coverage ends due to employment termination or reduction in employment hours, COBRA coverage may last for up to 18 months. If it ends due to any other qualifying events listed above, you may maintain COBRA coverage for up to 36 months. If you have COBRA coverage due to employment termination or reduction in hours, your family members’ COBRA coverage may be extended beyond the initial 18-month period up to a total of 36 months (as measured from the initial qualifying event) if a second qualifying event – the insured’s death or divorce – occurs during the 18 months of COBRA coverage. You must notify the GIC in writing within 60 days of the second qualifying event and before the 18-month COBRA period ends in order to extend the coverage. Your COBRA coverage may be extended to a total of 29 months (as measured from the initial qualifying event) if any qualified beneficiary in your family receiving COBRA coverage is disabled during the first 60 days of your 18-month COBRA coverage. You must provide the GIC with a copy of the Social Security Administration’s disability determination within 60 days after you receive it and before your initial 18 month COBRA period ends in order to extend the coverage. COBRA coverage will endbefore the maximum coverage period ends if any of the following occurs:
- The COBRA cost is not paid in full when due (see section on paying for COBRA);
- You or another qualified beneficiary become covered under another group health plan that does not impose any pre-existing condition exclusion for the qualified beneficiary’s pre-existing covered condition covered by COBRA benefits;
- You are no longer disabled as determined by the Social Security Administration (if your COBRA coverage was extended to 29 months due to disability);
- The Commonwealth of Massachusetts or your municipal employer no longer provides group health coverage to any of its employees; or
- Any reason for which the GIC terminates a non-COBRA enrollee’s coverage (such as fraud).
The GIC will notify you in writing if your COBRA coverage is to be terminated before the maximum coverage period ends. The GIC reserves the right to terminate your COBRA coverage retroactively if you are subsequently found to have been ineligible for coverage.
HOW AND WHEN DO I ELECT COBRA COVERAGE? Qualified beneficiaries must elect COBRA coverage within 60 days of the date that their group coverage otherwise would end or within 60 days of receiving a COBRA notice, whichever is later. A qualified beneficiary may change a prior rejection of COBRA election any time until that date. If you do not elect COBRA coverage within the 60-day election period, you will lose all rights to COBRA coverage. There are several considerations when deciding whether to elect COBRA coverage. COBRA coverage can help you avoid incurring a coverage gap of more than 63 days, which under Federal law can cause you to lose your right to be exempt from pre-existing condition exclusions when you elect subsequent health plan coverage. If you have COBRA coverage for the maximum period available to you, it provides you the right to purchase individual health insurance policies that do not impose such pre-existing condition exclusions. You also have special enrollment rights under federal law, including the right to request special enrollment in another group health plan for which you are otherwise eligible (such as a spouse’s plan) within 30 days after your COBRA coverage ends. HOW MUCH DOES COBRA COVERAGE COST? Under COBRA, you must pay 102% of the applicable cost of your COBRA coverage. If your COBRA coverage is extended to 29 months due to disability, your cost will increase to 150% of the applicable full cost rate for the additional 11 months of coverage. COBRA costs will change periodically; current COBRA rates are included with this notice. HOW AND WHEN DO I PAY FOR COBRA COVERAGE? If you elect COBRA coverage, you must make your first payment for COBRA coverage within 45 days after the date you elect it. If you do not make your first payment for COBRA coverage within the 45-day period, you will lose all COBRA coverage rights under the plan. Your first payment must cover the cost of COBRA coverage from the time your coverage would have ended up to the time you make the first payment. Services cannot be covered until the GIC receives and processes this first payment, and you are responsible for making sure that the amount of your first payment is enough to cover thisentire period. After you make your first payment, you will be required to pay for COBRA coverage for each subsequent month of coverage. These periodic payments are due usually around the 15th of each month. The GIC will send monthly bills, specifying the due date for payment and the address to which payment is to be sent for COBRA coverage, but you are responsible for paying for the coverage even if you do not receive a monthly statement. Payments should be sent to the GIC’s address on the bill. After the first payment, you will have a 30-day grace period beyond the due date on each monthly bill in which to make your monthly payment. Your COBRA coverage will be provided for each coverage period as long as payment for that coverage period is made before the end of the grace period for that payment. If you fail to make a periodic payment before the end of the grace period for that payment, you will lose all rights to COBRA coverage. CAN I ELECT OTHER HEALTH COVERAGE BESIDES COBRA? Yes. You have the right to enroll, within 31 days after
coverage ends, in an individual health insurance ‘conversion’ policy with your current health plan without providing proof of insurability. Alternately, if you are a Massachusetts resident, you may purchase health insurance through the Commonwealth’s Health Connector Authority. The GIC has no involvement in conversion programs, and only very limited involvement in or Health Connector programs. You pay the premium to the plan sponsor for the coverage. The benefits provided under such a policy might not be identical to those provided through COBRA. You may exercise this right in lieu of electing COBRA coverage, or you may exercise this right after you have received the maximum COBRA coverage available to you.
YOUR COBRA COVERAGE RESPONSIBILITIES
- You must inform the GIC of any address changes to preserve your COBRA rights;
- You must elect COBRA within 60 days from the date you receive a COBRA notice or would lose group coverage due to one of the qualifying events described above. If you do not elect COBRA coverage within the 60-day limit, your group health benefits coverage will end and you will lose all rights to COBRA coverage.
- You must make the first payment for COBRA coverage within 45 days after you elect COBRA. If you do not make your first payment for the entire COBRA cost due within that 45-day period, you will lose all COBRA coverage rights.
- You must pay the subsequent monthly cost for COBRA coverage in full by the end of the 30-day grace period after the due date on the bill. If you do not make payment in full by the end of the 30-day grace period after the due date on the bill, your COBRA coverage will end.
- You must inform the GIC within 60 days of the later of either (1) the date of any of the following, or (2) the date on which coverage would be lost because of any of the following events:
- The employee’s job terminates or his/her hours are reduced;
- The insured dies;
- The insured becomes legally separated or divorced;
- The insured or insured’s former spouse remarries;
- A covered child ceases to be a dependent under GIC eligibility rules;
- The Social Security Administration determines that the employee or a covered family member is disabled; or
- The Social Security Administration determines that the employee or a covered family member is no longer disabled.
If you do not inform the GIC of these events within the time period specified above, you will lose all rights to COBRA coverage. To notify the GIC of any of the above events within the 60 days for providing notice, send a letter to the Public Information Unit at Group Insurance Commission, P. O. Box 8747, Boston, MA 02114-8747.
Monthly Insurance Rates
Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) Coverage
Effective for the Premium Due July 1, 2012
Full Cost COBRA Rates
|Health Plan||Individual Coverage||Family Coverage|
|Fallon Community Health Plan Direct Care||$461.28||$1,107.08|
|Fallon Community Health Plan Select Care||581.94||1,396.65|
|Harvard Pilgrim Independence Plan||664.33||1,620.96|
|Harvard Pilgrim Primary Choice Plan||531.46||1,296.77|
|Health New England||451.80||1,120.10|
|NHP Care (Neighborhood Health Plan)||482.94||1,279.75|
|Tufts Health Plan Navigator||609.32||1,485.83|
|Tufts Health Plan Spirit||485.55||1,184.05|
|UniCare State Indemnity Plan/ Basic with CIC||906.26||2,116.28|
|UniCare State Indemnity Plan/Basic without CIC||864.81||2,020.13|
|UniCare State Indemnity Plan/Community Choice||429.99||1,031.96|
|UniCare State Indemnity Plan/PLUS||586.41||1,399.74|