COBRA Protects American Families During COVID-19

How Civilians Left Without Work Can Keep Their Healthcare Coverage

Employer-sponsored insurance plans are essential in many families’ efforts to afford healthcare coverage. However, as the pandemic has rattled American businesses and initiated a damaging economic downturn, many civilian workers have been left without a job or too few hours to benefit from their company healthcare plan. Luckily, COBRA continuation coverage protects these employees and their families amidst the pandemic. If you and your civilian spouse relied on their work-sponsored plan, COBRA may offer the help you need.

What is COBRA?

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) provides protection to employees, their spouses, and their dependents by preserving their access to their employer’s health plan after a qualifying event ends their coverage. Applicable events include:

  • Furlough
  • Reduction in hours
  • Termination

Such events are all too common due to the pandemic, leaving many eligible to seek coverage continuation under COBRA. By pursuing continuation, an employee can keep the insurance plan offered by their employer by paying both their and their employer’s portion of the insurance premium.

COBRA does not apply to healthcare plans sponsored by the federal government, or governments of the District of Columbia. Instead, federal employees are protected by Temporary Continuation of Coverage (TCC) which corresponds with the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program (FEHB). Still, COBRA can be relevant to federal employees married to non-federal workers.

Married couples may have sought dual coverage by enrolling both in FEHB and the civilian partner’s insurance plan, which can coexist in accordance with the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) regulations. If you would like to continue this dual coverage, you may take advantage of COBRA to extend the civilian spouse’s insurance plan.

Employer Expectations Under COBRA

Employers may elect to use a third-party service to handle COBRA, but they remain legally responsible to fulfill certain obligations. Employers are expected to:

  • Give covered employees and their spouse a COBRA General Notice within the first 90 days of becoming covered by the company insurance plan
  • Provide COBRA Election Notice to employees who lose coverage due to a qualifying event with instructions to elect coverage continuation
  • Provide COBRA qualified beneficiaries (employee, spouse, and dependents) at least 60 days to elect continuation coverage, then an additional 45 to pay their first premium

While these are the standard expectations, there is new leniency during COVID-19. The IRS and Department of Labor have granted an extension to seek COBRA coverage. This extension lasts until 60 days after the “Outbreak Period” ends. Additionally, the IRS and DOL announced that those enrolled in COBRA have up to 30 days after the end of the national emergency to pay for the months that they were enrolled in during the outbreak period.

The lawyers from The Law Firm of John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorneys at Law, PLLC are closely following the coronavirus and how it could impact federal employees and their families. Contact us today to discuss your case: (202) 759-7780.