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En español | COBRA is a temporary extension of the health insurance you had while working — same coverage, but you pay the employer’s share of the premiums as well as your own. Because COBRA does not count as insurance from active employment, you will not be protected from delayed coverage and late penalties if you wait to enroll in Medicare later than you should.

Therefore — regardless of how many months of COBRA coverage you’re offered — if you’re retiring before or at age 65, you should sign up for Medicare during your seven-month initial enrollment period (IEP), which expires three months after the month in which you turn 65. Or, if you delay Medicare enrollment beyond age 65 because you have health coverage from a current employer (your own or your spouse’s), you should enroll no later than eight months after the employment ends, when your special enrollment period expires.

Can you have COBRA as well as Medicare? That depends on when you become entitled to Medicare:

  • If your Medicare benefits (Part A or Part B) become effective on or before the day you elect COBRA coverage, you can continue COBRA coverage as well as having Medicare. This is true even if your Part A benefits begin before you elect COBRA but you don’t sign up for Part B until later. In this situation, Medicare is always primary to COBRA coverage.
  • If you become entitled to Medicare after you’ve signed up for COBRA, your COBRA benefits cease. (But if COBRA covers your spouse and/or dependent children, their coverage may be extended for up to 36 months because you qualified for Medicare.) 

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