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What is COBRA?

Federal COBRA is a U.S. law that applies to employers and group health plans that cover 20 or more employees. It lets you keep your group health plan when your job ends or your hours are cut. You have to pay the premium but you can keep your plan for at least 18 months.

Cal-COBRA is a California law that is like Federal COBRA.

  • Cal-COBRA applies to employers and group health plans that cover from 2 to 19 employees. It lets you keep your plan for up to 36 months.
  • Cal-COBRA is also for people who use up their Federal COBRA. When your 18 months of Federal COBRA ends, you can keep your health plan up to 18 more months under Cal-COBRA.

Small Employer (2 to 19 employees)

Large Employer (20 or more employees)

Cal-COBRA — up to 36 months

Federal COBRA — 18 or 36 months
(depends on the qualifying event)

Cal-COBRA — If Federal COBRA was 18 months, 18 more months of Cal-COBRA is available

Meet the Deadlines

  • You should get a notice in the mail about your COBRA/Cal-COBRA rights.
  • You have 60 days after being notified to sign up.
  • If you do not get a notice in the mail, call your last employer or health plan right away.
  • Call the Help Center if you are having problems getting the forms you need.
  • If you miss the deadline, you may lose the chance to sign up for Federal COBRA/Cal-COBRA.

Questions and Answers

Who can enroll in Federal COBRA or Cal-COBRA?

  • You may be able to get Federal COBRA if you have a health plan through an employer who has 20 or more employees and there is one of the qualifying events listed below.
  • You may be able to get Cal-COBRA if you have a health plan through an employer who has 2 to 19 employees and there is a one of the qualifying events listed below.
  • A qualifying event means that you lose your health plan because:
    • The employee's job ends.
    • The employee's hours are cut.
    • You divorce or legally separate from the employee.
    • You are no longer a dependent of the employee.
    • The employee enrolls in Medicare.
    • The employee dies.

How do I sign up for Federal COBRA or Cal-COBRA?

There are several deadlines you need to know if you want to sign up for COBRA or Cal-COBRA. If you have trouble getting the forms you need, call the Help Center. Your employer has 30 day to tell your plan that your job is ending or your hours are cut. But if you divorce, legally separate, or can no longer be considered a dependent, you have 60 days to tell the employer and the health plan.

  1. Then the plan has up to 14 days to send you an “election notice,” including an enrollment form. This notice also tells you what the premiums will be. If you do not get a notice in the mail, call your last employer or health plan right away.
  2. Then you have 60 days to send in your completed enrollment form. .
  3. After you send in your enrollment form, you have 45 days to pay your first premium.
  4. Make sure you:
    • Send in the enrollment form before the deadline.
    • Send it to the right place.
    • Send the right premium amount.
    • Pay your first premium within 45 days after you send your enrollment form.

Can I get Cal-COBRA after I use up my Federal COBRA?

You may be able to. If your Federal COBRA lasted only 18 months, you may be able to keep your health plan for 18 more months with Cal-COBRA, for a total of 36 months. If your Federal COBRA lasted 36 months, you cannot get more months with Cal-COBRA.

What are my benefits under Federal COBRA and Cal-COBRA?

  • You have the same benefits as other employees in the same plan.
  • If other employees have open enrollment periods when they can change from one plan to another, you can too.
  • If the employer changes the employees from one plan to another, you change too.
  • You have no restrictions because of pre-existing conditions.
  • If the group plan offers specialized plans, such as dental or vision plans, they must be offered to you also. However, if you change from Federal COBRA to Cal-COBRA, these specialized plans do not have to be offered to you.

When do Federal COBRA and Cal-COBRA end?

They end when:

  • You use up your 36 months. This can be 36 months of Cal-COBRA alone or 18 months of Federal COBRA followed by 18 months of Cal-COBRA.
  • You do not pay your premiums on time.
  • The employer no longer offers any health plan.
  • You move outside the health plan's service area.
  • You enroll in, or become eligible to enroll in Medicare.
  • You enroll in another health plan.

Who cannot enroll in Federal COBRA or Cal-COBRA?

You cannot enroll in Federal COBRA or Cal-COBRA if you:

  • Are enrolled in, or become eligible to enroll in Medicare.
  • Are fired for gross misconduct.
  • Did not enroll within 60 days after you were notified of your right to Federal COBRA or Cal-COBRA.
  • Did not pay your first premium on time.
  • Are covered by another health plan.
  • Are in a Self-Funded plan or an out-of-state plan. This only applies to Cal-COBRA.

 

Resources

U.S. Department of Labor COBRA
Information on the Federal COBRA program to help you keep your group health plan if you lose your job or your hours are cut
1-866-444-3272 (Spanish, Chinese)
1-877-889-5627 (TTY)
www.dol.gov/dol/topic/health-plans/cobra.htm (Spanish)
www.dol.gov/ebsa

Major Risk Medical Insurance Program (MRMIP)
Health insurance for people who cannot find individual health insurance because of they have pre-existing conditions. To get a program handbook or application
1-800-289-6574
www.mrmib.ca.gov/MRMIB/MRMIP.html