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Q

I got fired. Do I still qualify for COBRA?

A

Yes, you can continue your health insurance coverage through COBRA, assuming you weren't fired for "gross misconduct."

What is gross misconduct?

Unfortunately, the law that created COBRA doesn't provide a definition, so it's open to interpretation. But in most cases people who are fired are not denied the right to continue health insurance coverage.

COBRA stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. It was enacted in 1986 to give people and their families access to a temporary extension of coverage under an employer's group health plan when that coverage might otherwise end. You and other covered members of your family are eligible for COBRA if your employment hours are reduced or you quit your job, are laid off or fired -- except in cases of gross misconduct.

You also must have been covered under the employer's group health insurance plan at the time you lost your job to be eligible for COBRA. If, for instance, your company offers health benefits to certain groups of employees, and you weren't among them, then you're not eligible.

The federal law for COBRA applies only to companies with 20 or more employees, but some states have what are called "mini-Cobra" laws. Read about state-specific laws for COBRA if you were terminated from a company with fewer than 20 workers.

If you qualify, the law entitles you to 18 months of health benefits under your employer's group health plan, but you have to pay the premium. If you were fired before May 31, you may qualify for a 65 percent federal subsidy of the premium under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The subsidy lasts for 15 months but is available only to those people who involuntarily lost their jobs between Sept. 1, 2008 and May 31, 2010.

You can decide to forego COBRA coverage. If so, check into individual health insurance or a short-term health insurance plan to bridge the gap. Your spouse and children can continue receiving benefits from your employer's plan, as long as they were covered when you were employed, even if you elect not to take advantage of COBRA. For more, read know your COBRA rights.

Last updated: Sep. 17, 2010