What is COBRA Health Insurance? A Comprehensive FAQ and Guide with Essential Tips

Health insurance 101
Health plans
Healthcare industry

Health insurance is an essential aspect of healthcare for millions of people. While many people obtain health insurance through their employers, there are situations in which employees may no longer have access to their employer-sponsored health insurance plans. This could happen due to job loss, reduced working hours, or a change in job status. In such cases, an option is COBRA insurance, which provides employees with continued health insurance (including medical and dental) coverage for a limited time after they lose their eligibility for employer-sponsored health insurance. In this article, we will provide a comprehensive guide to COBRA health insurance, including its benefits, coverage, considerations, and alternatives.

Understanding what COBRA insurance is and its role

COBRA health insurance is a type of health insurance that was created in 1985 through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) and supported by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The primary purpose of COBRA health insurance is to provide continued health insurance and dental plan coverage to people who lose their eligibility for employer-sponsored health plans due to certain qualifying events, such as job loss, reduced working hours, or a change in job status. COBRA enrollees have no restrictions due to pre existing conditions, and COBRA continuation coverage can be paid for out of your HSA.

The importance of COBRA coverage in healthcare continuity

COBRA coverage is essential for healthcare continuity. In cases where an individual loses their employer-sponsored health plan or dental plan, they still need access to healthcare coverage to maintain their health and wellbeing. Enrollment in COBRA coverage helps to bridge the gap between employer-sponsored health insurance coverage and the individual's search for new health insurance coverage. COBRA is a true continuation of coverage, so deductibles and max out of pocket costs do not reset. Without a COBRA health insurance election, people may experience gaps in healthcare coverage rather than continuation of coverage, which could have severe consequences on their health. Others may buy marketplace plans in the individual market, which require a deductible reset, can have different subsidy requirements, and can be lower quality or value in some areas or can require a switch to a different plan type (e.g. PPO to HMO).

The history and legislation behind COBRA health insurance

COBRA health insurance came into existence in 1985 through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). The primary objective of COBRA under federal law was to provide health insurance coverage to people who lost their eligibility for employer-sponsored health insurance and don't want to buy on the individual marketplace. COBRA requires that healthcare plans offer employees and their covered dependents the option to continue their health insurance coverage for a limited time in cases where they are no longer eligible for employer-sponsored health insurance.

Who is eligible for COBRA Insurance?

To be eligible for COBRA health insurance, an individual or their dependents (spouse, partner, or children) must have been covered under an employer-sponsored health insurance plan and lost their eligibility for that plan due to a qualifying event, such as when their employment is terminated. Qualifying events include job loss, reduced working hours, change in job status, divorce, legal separation, death of the employee, and reaching Medicare eligibility age. Participants must make an election to use COBRA, it does not happen automatically. Gross misconduct resulting in job termination does not make people qualify for COBRA.

What services does COBRA insurance cover?

COBRA health insurance covers various medical treatments, including hospitalization, surgery, and prescription drug expenses. The extent of coverage typically depends on the healthcare plan and employee benefits the individual was enrolled in before they became eligible for COBRA health insurance.

What is the extent and duration of COBRA coverage?

COBRA health insurance coverage typically lasts for 18 months after enrollment when the individual loses their eligibility for employer-sponsored health insurance and chooses to enroll in COBRA. In certain qualifying events such as divorce, legal separation, death of the employee or reaching Medicare eligibility age, the coverage may last for up to 36 months. It's essential to note that COBRA health insurance is generally more expensive than employer-sponsored health insurance coverage, as the individual elects and is required to pay the full cost of the insurance premiums and not just the portion that was previously covered by the employer. COBRA is retroactive to the time employer-sponsored coverage was lost if elected and premiums are paid for by the beneficiary.

How to extend or terminate COBRA health insurance coverage

If an individual needs to extend their COBRA health insurance coverage continuation beyond the initial 18 or 36 months, they may do so at an additional cost. To do this, they must notify their healthcare plan administrator within the allowed time frame and submit premium payment for the extension. Terminating COBRA health insurance coverage may occur at any time with no penalty.

COBRA health insurance costs and caveats

While COBRA health insurance provides essential healthcare coverage continuity, it comes with higher costs than employer-sponsored health insurance. This is because the individual is required to pay the full cost of the premiums, including the portion that their employer previously covered. Additionally, there may be administrative or processing fees associated with COBRA health insurance coverage.

Alternative options to COBRA health insurance

While COBRA health insurance provides essential healthcare coverage continuity, there may be alternative options that an individual can consider. One alternative is enrolling in health insurance through a spouse or domestic partner's health plan. Another is purchasing individual health insurance or enrolling in a government-sponsored healthcare program such as Medicaid or Medicare. However, it is crucial to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each option before making a choice.


In conclusion, COBRA health insurance is a valuable healthcare continuity option for individuals who lose their eligibility for employer-sponsored health insurance. It provides critical coverage for various medical treatments but comes at a higher cost than employer-sponsored health insurance coverage. Understanding the benefits, coverage, considerations, and alternatives of COBRA health insurance can help individuals make an informed decision about their healthcare coverage.

Welcome to Decent: a new kind of health plan.

Join our monthly newsletter to stay in the know!