What is COBRA Health Insurance?

COBRA, short for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, is a health insurance initiative. It allows eligible individuals, not just employed members, to extend their existing group health insurance coverage for a limited period after experiencing specific qualifying events such as job loss, reduced work hours, or other life events.

In this article, we have provided everything you need to know about COBRA, what it is, its benefits, and other important aspects.

COBRA Health Insurance – Explained

U.S. labor law under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates that employers with 50 or more full-time employees provide health insurance coverage. However, COBRA applies to businesses with at least 20 employees on more than 50% of its typical business days in the previous calendar year.

The businesses must contribute a portion of the premiums.

There are several reasons why someone may not be eligible for employer-sponsored health insurance. The reasons could be that the employee fails to work for the minimum number of hours or is laid off by the employee. You can also be eligible for COBRA insurance benefits if you quit your job.

In such situations, the employer does not contribute to the employee’s insurance premiums. In such instances, COBRA lets these individuals retain partial health insurance coverage. This coverage is offered for a fixed duration, but only if the individual pays the premiums out of their pockets.

COBRA allows you to continue receiving health insurance coverage at group rates for plans that would otherwise become invalid. This coverage extends to former employees, their spouses (current and former), and their dependent children.

You will have to pay more for insurance premiums than when employed, as the employer will stop contributing partial payment. Still, COBRA health insurance coverage will likely be less expensive than private insurance policies.

Remember, COBRA health insurance mostly offers basic benefits. It may not provide disability insurance and life insurance. However, COBRA insurance covers the cost of eye care, dental treatments, and prescription drugs.

What is COBRA Health Insurance

Understanding COBRA Health Insurance

COBRA Health Insurance – Eligibility

The eligibility criteria for COBRA health insurance coverage vary for employees and individuals. Eligible individuals can usually get COBRA health coverage after experiencing certain events.

COBRA requires that group health plans of employers with 20 or more employees in the previous year offer employees and their families the option for a temporary extension of health coverage in certain instances. Part-time workers can also become eligible for COBRA coverage by adding their working hours to create full-time schedules.

This is essential to ensure that an employer is mandated to provide COBRA health coverage. This insurance initiative is normally added to any private or government-sponsored health insurance coverage for which the individual may qualify.

Mini-COBRA plans are designed for employers with less than 20 full-time employees and are usually mandated by local and state laws. Federal employees have health insurance options, such as COBRA.

To be eligible for COBRA coverage, an employee should be enrolled in a group health insurance plan sponsored by their employer before the qualifying event. In addition, the selected group health insurance should be applicable for more than half the typical business day for the employer in the previous year.

Besides this, the employer must also provide health insurance coverage to current employees so they may qualify for COBRA on departure. However, if the employer no longer offers insurance to current employees or is going out of business, the departing employee will not qualify for COBRA benefits.

Finally, the applicant must have experienced employee health insurance loss to qualify for COBRA coverage. This usually decides the list of eligible beneficiaries, as each type of beneficiary has varying criteria.

COBRA Health Insurance – Cost

Under COBRA, individuals must pay the entire premium for coverage up to 102% of the cost to the plan. This includes the portion previously paid by the employer and potentially an additional 2% administrative fee. In the long run, this sounds like a discounted rate. However, in case of a qualifying event, the employer will stop paying the portion of the premium. This means that the COBRA-qualifying individual must pay the total premium amount.

For instance, if the employer pays 70% of the total COBRA premium cost, the employee will continue to pay the remaining 30%. When a person becomes qualified for COBRA, the ex-employee will have to bear the cost of COBRA insurance premiums.

Though the overall cost of COBRA premiums remains the same throughout, it will increase subjectively for the qualifying ex-employee. Despite this, COBRA health insurance premiums are comparatively less expensive than other individual health insurance plans so COBRA insurance is worth most other private individual health insurance policies in the marketplace.

COBRA Health Insurance – Coverage & Benefits

COBRA allows individuals to extend their health coverage for 18 months following a qualifying event such as job loss. In some cases, such as for qualifying dependents or in the event of divorce or death, the coverage period can extend up to 36 months. Some individuals may also qualify to receive COBRA coverage for up to 36 months, depending on the situation.

Overall, COBRA health benefits are the same as those outlined in business-sponsored health insurance. Changes in the current employee group insurance plan benefits are immediately reflected in the COBRA health coverage. In addition, ex-employees eligible for COBRA should be given at least 60 days to decide whether to continue their current coverage.

COBRA Health Insurance – Pros & Cons

Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of COBRA health insurance coverage –

Pros of COBRA Health Insurance

  • Allows to continue with the same physician, network providers, and benefit range
  • Let’s retain current coverage for pre-existing conditions and prescription medication.
  • Costs are lower than most standard health insurance plans
  • A better alternative to being uninsured
  • Protection against high medical bills in case of sickness

Cons of COBRA Health Insurance

  • Premium cost for insurance rises after qualifying event
  • Limited time coverage for individuals and beneficiaries
  • Mostly dependent on the employer’s choice of business-sponsored insurance
  • Inability to choose changes in insurance benefits and coverage
  • Risk of fluctuating co-payments and deductibles


COBRA provides a crucial bridge in health insurance coverage for individuals experiencing significant life transitions, such as job loss, reduction in hours, or other qualifying events, allowing them to maintain their existing health insurance for a limited period. It offers health coverage for 18 to 36 months and is significantly less expensive than standard individual insurance plans. COBRA health insurance has its advantages and drawbacks but remains the best option for those without employment and between jobs.

See Also

What is Healthcare FSA

Can an Employer Ask What Your Medical Condition Is

Signs That You Will Be Approved for Disability

Employer Terminates Health Insurance Without Notice

Self Employed Health Insurance Deduction

Current Version
March 7, 2024
Updated By
Andrea Morales G.
September 14, 2023
Written By
Shubham Grover
September 21, 2023
Fact Checked By
Andrea Morales G.

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