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COBRA allows you to continue a employer-sponsored health insurance plan if you leave or lose your job. It was designed to protect employees and their dependents who lost employer-sponsored coverage because of job loss, divorce or death of the insured worker. 

However, the law doesn't cover people who work for small businesses. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 only applies to employers with at least 20 workers. 

But don't count yourself out if you work for a small company. Nearly all states and the District of Columbia have passed similar "mini-COBRA" laws that apply to firms with fewer than 20 employees.

State laws vary, including the amount of time when you can keep a mini-COBRA plan. Talk to your company's employee benefits professional about the rules for COBRA eligibility.

Here are the length of time in which you're eligible for a mini-COBRA plan after losing your job: 

 

Mini-COBRA eligibility by state
State
Length of COBRA eligibility
Arizona18 months
Arkansas4 months
California36 months
Colorado18 months
Connecticut30 months
Delaware9 months
District of Columbia3 months
Florida18 months
Georgia3 months
Hawaii3 months
Illinois12 months
Iowa9 months
Kansas18 months
Kentucky18 months
Louisiana12 months
Maine12 months
Maryland18 months
Massachusetts18 months
Minnesota18 months
Mississippi12 months
Missouri18 months
Nebraska6 months
Nevada18 months
New Hampshire18 months
New Jersey18 months
New Mexico6 months
New York36 months
North Carolina18 months
North Dakota39 weeks
Ohio6 months
Oklahoma63 days
Oregon6 months
Pennsylvania9 months
Rhode Island18 months
South Carolina6 months
South Dakota18 months
Tennessee3 months
Texas6 months
Utah12 months
Vermont6 months
Virginia12 months
Washington6 months
West Virginia18 months
Wisconsin18 months
Wyoming12 months

Let's also take a look at other specific mini-COBRA laws by state:

  • Florida: In some cases, you can continue coverage for an additional 11 months -- beyond the maximum normally allowed -- if you're disabled at a cost of 150% of the premium for each additional month.
  • Georgia: Anyone 60 or older can continue on a plan until they qualify for Medicare or another plan; the premiums could cost up to 120% of the premium.
  • Illinois: Spouses 55 or older can remain covered until they are eligible for Medicare, with an administrative cost of up to 20% of the premium.
  • Massachusetts: Coverage can be extended to 30 months if an employee becomes disabled and 36 months for dependents if an employee dies.
  • Nebraska: Coverage for up to six months as long as the employee was involuntarily terminated not due to misconduct.
  • New Jersey: An employee's death or divorce results in dependents being eligible for coverage for 36 months.
  • New Mexico: In some cases, you can continue coverage for an additional 11 months -- beyond the maximum normally allowed -- if you're disabled at a cost of 150% of the premium for each additional month.
  • North Dakota: COBRA continuation coverage lasts 39 weeks, except if you lost coverage because of divorce. After divorce, you can get up to 36 months of continuation coverage.
  • Oklahoma: You qualify for an extra six months of coverage if you're pregnant or in a plan of surgery and have been covered under the group plan for at least six months.
  • Oregon: Insurers can charge you 102% of the group rate if you lost coverage because of separation, divorce or death of the insured employee.
  • Rhode Island: Coverage can be continued for as long as the employee had been with the company before termination or 18 months, whichever is longer. Termination needs to be involuntary.
  • South Dakota: After 18 months, the premium jumps to 150% of the group rate. If the employer terminates the policy, the insurer must offer continuation coverage for 12 months and charge you no more than 125% of the group rate.
  • Virginia: Insurers can offer you continuation coverage or let you convert to an individual plan.
  • Washington: State law does not mandate continuation coverage for group policies, but insurers must give employers the option for a continuation provision. Workers who are on strike can continue coverage for six months.

Remember, you pay the full premium to continue coverage through COBRA. You might find a more affordable option by shopping for your own plan through the government-run marketplace in your state or directly from an insurer, through an agent or comparing health insurance quotes online.

Find out more about COBRA plans: