How long does COBRA insurance last? The answer you will hear most often is 18 months, but that isn't always the case. The law is more complex. The length of time is mainly dependent on the qualifying event.
(Non-group private medical insurance policies are often cheaper than COBRA. Many insurers that provide COBRA health insurance also provide similar non-COBRA coverage at a lower price when they sell to an individual or their family.)
Most former employees have the option of keeping their health insurance benefits by acquiring a COBRA policy for 18 months. This gives them the right to keep their group health insurance, but their employer no longer pays for it. However, that is only for the typical scenario.
There are scenarios where COBRA benefits can be kept for a shorter or longer period of time. In some circumstances COBRA health insurance plans can be kept for 36 months. Since not all employers are required by law to provide this health insurance continuation option, some employees will not be offered COBRA in the first place or will have it end early.
Certain circumstances can cause your COBRA eligibility to end before the minimum period. Conversely, the law allows employers to offer you COBRA for longer periods of time, but few do so. Employees terminated due to "gross misconduct" may not be offered a COBRA insurance plan.
COBRA is only mandated if an employer had 20 full time employees at least half of the previous calendar year and provides a group health insurance policy for its current employees. (Part time employees count towards the 20 employee minimum as well. A part time employee will not count as a half or a third of a full time employee. The percentage depends on how many hours the part time employee works.)
This means that COBRA plans might not be offered by smaller employers. It also means that COBRA may end if the former employer no longer has 20 employees or no longer provides group health insurance to its current employees.
Eligibility for COBRA also ends if no one pays the premium for the policy
How Long Can I Keep COBRA?
If the employee became eligible for Medicare benefits within 18 months of their COBRA eligibility, their spouse and dependents will probably be eligible for a continuation of their medical benefits through COBRA for the remainder of the 36 months that started with the date of Medicare eligibility.
If the spouse or dependent loses their health insurance coverage benefits due to a divorce, they will probably qualify for 36 months of COBRA.
If the spouse or dependent loses their health insurance coverage due to the death of the employee, they will probably qualify for 36 months of COBRA.
If a dependent child loses coverage due to their age, they will probably qualify for 36 months of COBRA.
In most other circumstances or qualifying events, the employee and his or her spouse and dependents will qualify a continuation of their health insurance benefits for 18 months through a COBRA policy.
You can read more about how qualifying event impact your eligibility and about the COBRA law in general by visiting the Department of Labor's website.
Most people who are insured through a COBRA continuation of their health insurance policy will find that their employer no longer pays any of the cost. This means that your premiums can be higher than for a private health insurance policy, even if it is with the same insurer.
You can request quotes for a private medical insurance policy through us to see if an individual or family policy will be less expensive than what you pay in premiums for your COBRA policy.