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COBRA Insurance Deadlines Extended During COVID-19 Outbreak

Workers who need to stay on ex-employer's health plan get extra time to enroll, pay premiums

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With millions of workers having lost their jobs because of the coronavirus outbreak, federal officials are giving the unemployed more time to decide whether to enroll in COBRA and more flexibility in paying the program's insurance premiums.

COBRA is the federal program that allows employees and their families who have lost their health insurance to continue on their former employer's plan by paying both their and their former employer's portion of the health insurance premium.

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Usually, former employees have 60 days to decide whether to enroll in COBRA and then another 45 days to pay their first premium. Under joint guidance from the U.S. Labor Department (DOL) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), unemployed Americans now have up to 60 days after the end of the official coronavirus national emergency designation to decide whether to enroll. Under the current White House order, the national emergency for COVID-19 ends June 29, so individuals would have until Aug. 28 to enroll in COBRA. If the administration extends the national emergency, however, that would also increase the time that former workers would have to opt for continued insurance coverage.

In the meantime, laid-off employees can continue to be covered under their former employer's plan. For laid-off workers who choose COBRA, coverage is retroactive to the date they lost their health insurance.

The DOL and IRS joint announcement also extends the time that those enrolled in COBRA have before they must pay their premiums, giving them until 30 days after the national emergency ends to pay for March, April, May and June.

What's more, the new federal guidance provides flexibility so that current employees who still have their health insurance have more time to sign up dependents who may have lost their insurance during the outbreak. Usually, workers have 30 days after a dependent, say, loses a job or gives birth to add that dependent to their employer-based health plan. During the outbreak, employees will have 60 days after the end of the national emergency to add any dependent to their plan.

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