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What is COBRA?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

COBRA (in this case not a big, scary snake) stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. If you are part of a group health insurance plan through your employer, and then lose your job or retire, you (and potentially your family too) may be eligible to continue receiving health insurance benefits through COBRA.

Especially with the huge numbers of people who lost jobs during the recession, COBRA has been a virtual lifesaver. But COBRA is not free (or inexpensive by any means). Your former employer no longer shares part of the cost of the insurance premium, so YOU are stuck with the whole bill. But if it means having health insurance, it’s worth it.

COBRA stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, a federal law in effect since 1986. COBRA permits many employees and their dependents, in some circumstances, to continue on an employer's group health plan even after coverage would otherwise end.

This temporary continuation coverage lasts between 18-36 months, and can be critically important for people who hope or expect to have access to other coverage down the road (for example, while they are between jobs or waiting to qualify for Medicare). However, COBRA protections are also limited. Not everyone who loses group health coverage is eligible for COBRA. Even when you are, the former employer is not required to make premium contributions for COBRA coverage. For this reason, many people who would like to remain covered under COBRA cannot afford to do so.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.