I may lose my job. What should I know about COBRA?

Some COBRA basics:

1. COBRA stands for Consolidated Omnibus Budge Reconciliation Act of 1986.

2. COBRA is subject to federal Employee Retirement Income Act (ERISA) rather than state law.

3. Employee health plans sponsored by the federal government, churches, and certain church-related organizations are exempt from COBRA.

4. COBRA extends group health benefits, not life or disability coverage.

5. The group health plan must cover the individual on the day before the 'qualifying event.' The employee, employee's spouse or ex-spouse, and dependent children are eligible for continuation benefits.

6. A qualifying event is one that causes the individual to lose health benefits. Examples include job termination, death of a covered employee, loss of dependent child status, and more.

7. Specifics of the qualifying event determine eligibility and how long coverage continues. COBRA benefits typically last 18 months, but can extend to 36 months in certain cases.

Monitor your mail closely following the final workday. The employer must send written details outlining COBRA continuation rights within 30 days. Pay attention to when benefits begin, the date to confirm acceptance, monthly cost, payment due date, where to send money, and more. You have 60 days to agree and pay for coverage.

Continuation benefits are often expensive because you pay the full premium plus an administrative fee. Ask your benefits manager about COBRA, and then explore other options. You may find more affordable coverage on your own.

COBRA coverage ends if you do not pay the premium; the employer no longer offers group health benefits; you enroll in another plan; or when there is fraud.