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Who is entitled to continuation coverage under COBRA?

In order 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.

Plan Coverage - COBRA covers group health plans sponsored by an employer (private-sector 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 - 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 covered employees 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. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, plans that offer coverage to children on their parents' plan must make the coverage available until the adult child reaches the age of 26.

Qualified Beneficiaries - A qualified beneficiary is an individual 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. 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. An employer's agents, independent contractors, and directors who participate in the group health plan may also be qualified beneficiaries. 

Last update on January, 26 2017 by Elizabeth Bonney.

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