When COBRA Expires: Individual Health Care Enrollment Explained

COBRA, short for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, is a strategic and stress-free way for former employees and their families to continue accessing health care coverage through their past employer after a major life event. However, COBRA is designed for temporary coverage and typically expires after 18 months. When COBRA expires, here’s what employees should […]

What happens when my cobra expires?

COBRA, short for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, is a strategic and stress-free way for former employees and their families to continue accessing health care coverage through their past employer after a major life event.

However, COBRA is designed for temporary coverage and typically expires after 18 months. When COBRA expires, here’s what employees should know.

What happens when COBRA expires?

COBRA benefits don’t last forever, as they’re intended to help you transition during a difficult life event. This 18 months of coverage can go by quickly and it’s possible that you might not yet have a new job and a new health insurance plan by the time your COBRA expires.

The good news is that your beneficiaries, such as children, spouses, and elderly family members, might still be able to continue receiving COBRA coverage even when you’re no longer eligible.

How can I access individual healthcare?

The healthcare marketplace makes it relatively easy to access health insurance as an individual. However, it’s a good idea to keep track of when you started your COBRA benefits. This way you can successfully sign up for and begin a new individual plan without experiencing a period where you aren’t covered—which could subject you to additional challenges and fees.

Since leaving a job is usually a qualifying life event, you will have up to two months, or 60 days, to enroll in a new individual plan— regardless of what time of the year it is.

To see what’s available and in your budget, make sure to browse the marketplace early and often. While most individuals need to apply for coverage during the open enrollment period, which is typically in the fall, those who have lost employer-based coverage are eligible for special enrollment, as this constitutes a qualifying life event. This means that they’ll have up to two months, or 60 days, to enroll in a new individual plan— regardless of what time of the year it is. This is a great strategy for ensuring that people who lose employer-based coverage and whose COBRA expires still have access to new insurance plans year-round.

What does individual healthcare cost?

Individual healthcare costs vary greatly depending on your income. Since it tends to be calculated based on your living situation, previous employment, and household status, there’s no single price for individual healthcare. Moreover, assessing the marketplace to see all of your options can ensure that you choose a plan that fits with your budget.

What are additional options for accessing health insurance?

Aside from enrolling in individual care through the marketplace, there might be other ways to receive healthcare that better suits your budget.

For example, you might be able to be included in your spouse’s insurance plan. Medicaid is another option you may be eligible for, especially if you’re still unemployed. Many people don’t realize that they’re eligible for medicaid, or that it offers a wealth of benefits for people facing situations such as unemployment.

Another lesser-known option for gaining coverage is to look at the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA. This insurance policy is particularly suited for those whose COBRA has expired.

These broad-benefit health insurance premiums are designed to provide a basic level of access to individuals. It might not be the best choice for someone who needs specific help with existing conditions and illnesses, however. If you’re generally healthy and you need something to cover you for the interim after COBRA runs out, however, this could be a formidable choice.

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