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If you become unemployed in the Golden State, there are several ways you can keep the sun shining on your health insurance. COBRA coverage is one option in California — and everywhere else in the United States. 

Now, you might think navigating COBRA sounds as fun as LA traffic, but with some knowledge, you can assess your options and maintain your health insurance coverage. While COBRA might not be the most cost-effective solution for health insurance, it may still be the best option to protect your health if you become unemployed. 

What is COBRA?

COBRA was developed almost 40 years ago as part of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) of 1985. This federal law established COBRA, which allows workers to continue their health coverage after losing their employment for a specified period: 18 months as of 2023. 

COBRA allows you and your dependents to keep the health coverage — including dental and vision — you had as an employee benefit even when your job ends. However, COBRA can be very expensive because your employer won’t pay any of the cost. 

In California, the state administers a system called Cal-COBRA for workers who aren’t eligible for federal COBRA or those who have exhausted their federal COBRA. 

You can also get COBRA coverage if you experience a major life event, like a divorce. 

How does COBRA work?

You are typically eligible for COBRA if you have health insurance as part of your employment and your job ends – for example, if you are laid off. 

Additionally, if a qualifying life event impacts your health insurance, like a divorce from someone who provided your insurance, you become eligible for COBRA. Furthermore, you can likely get COBRA if you lose health coverage because your employment moved from full-time to part-time.  

Federal COBRA is not available if your employer has fewer than 20 workers, but you are eligible for Cal-COBRA if your employer has a staff of two to 19 employees. 

You have 60 days after your employment ends to sign up for COBRA or Cal-COBRA. If you don’t receive a notice about COBRA in the mail, contact your employer. The health coverage you’ll get through COBRA will be the same as the one you received from your employer, though they’ll no longer be paying for any of it.

Once you have signed up, you and your dependents can have federal COBRA insurance for 18 months after your job ends. After 18 months, Californians can sign up for Cal-COBRA to continue coverage for another 18 months, totaling 36 months. If you are only eligible for Cal-COBRA, you can keep that for 18 months. 

How much does COBRA cost in California?

COBRA rates change every year, so be sure to check with the state to see what the current rates are. Across the nation, COBRA premiums are calculated at 102% of the basic premium of your health insurer. However, some carriers may charge less than the maximum allowed. 

California COBRA rates for region 1 in 2023

PlanIndividual plan monthly rates2-party plan monthly ratesFamily plan monthly rates
Anthem Blue Cross Del Norte EPO$1,224.12$2,448.24$3,182.72
Anthem Blue Cross Select HMO$1,151.41$2,302.81$2,993.66
Anthem Blue Cross Traditional HMO$1,234.92$2,469.85$3,210.81
Blue Shield Access+ HMO$1,055.91$2,111.83$2,745.38
Blue Shield Access+ EPO$1,055.91$2,111.83$2,745.38
Blue Shield Trio HMO$906.72$1,813.44$2,357.46
Health Net SmartCare$1,197.99$2,395.98$3,114.77
Kaiser Permanente$932.01$1,864.03$2,423.23
Peace Officers Research Assoc of CA$841.50$1,912.50$2,346.00
PERS Gold$842.12$1,684.24$2,189.52
PERS Platinum$1,224.12$2,448.24$3,182.72
UnitedHealthcare SignatureValue Alliance$1,064.95$2,129.90$2,768.87
Western Health Advantage HMO$775.37$1,550.75$2,015.97

Note: Region 1 includes Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Marin, Mariposa,
Mendocino, Merced, Modoc, Mono, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Benito, San Francisco, San Joaquin,
San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne, Yolo, and Yuba.

California COBRA rates for region 2 in 2023

PlanIndividual plan monthly rates2-party plan monthly ratesFamily plan monthly rates
Anthem Blue Cross Select HMO$780.68$1,561.35$2,029.76
Anthem Blue Cross Traditional HMO$953.82$1,907.64$2,479.94
Blue Shield Access+ HMO$859.46$1,718.92$2,234.61
Blue Shield Access+ EPO$859.46$1,718.92$2,234.61
Blue Shield Trio HMO$775.92$1,551.85$2,017.41
Health Net Salud y Más$712.89$1,425.78$1,853.51
Health Net SmartCare$851.34$1,702.69$2,213.49
Kaiser Permanente$771.33$1,542.67$2,005.47
Peace Officers Research Assoc of CA$836.40$1,683.00$2,142.00
PERS Gold$709.85$1,419.70$1,845.61
PERS Platinum$1,035.10$2,070.19$2,691.25
Sharp Performance Plus$780.26$1,560.52$2,028.68
UnitedHealthcare SignatureValue Alliance$809.50$1,619.01$2,104.71
UnitedHealthcare SignatureValue Harmony$797.21$1,594.42$2,072.75

Note: Region 2 includes Fresno, Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Madera, Orange, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.

California COBRA rates for region 3 in 2023

PlanIndividual plan monthly rates2-party plan monthly ratesFamily plan monthly rates
Anthem Blue Cross Select HMO$752.67$1,505.34$1,956.94
Anthem Blue Cross Traditional HMO961.581,923.172,500.12
Blue Shield Access+ HMO753.061,506.111,957.94
Blue Shield Trio HMO674.721,349.441,754.27
Health Net Salud y Más618.471,236.931,608.01
Health Net SmartCare770.41,540.792,003.03
Kaiser Permanente769.731,539.472,001.30
Peace Officers Research Assoc of CA836.41,632.002,142.00
PERS Gold693.981,387.951,804.34
PERS Platinum1,012.442,024.882,632.34
UnitedHealthcare SignatureValue Alliance806.271,612.542,096.30
UnitedHealthcare SignatureValue Harmony727.821,455.641,892.33

Note: Region 3 includes Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino.

You don’t have to purchase COBRA insurance to have health insurance coverage – it is just one option available once you leave employment. We always recommend, though, that you have health coverage even if you are unemployed. 

How to enroll in COBRA in California

You have 60 days after your employment ends in California to sign up for COBRA. If you don’t receive any notice in the mail about COBRA, contact your employer. If you don’t receive any notice about Cal-COBRA, contact your health insurer.

Once enrolled, you will have to pay your COBRA premiums. You will be unenrolled in COBRA if you sign up for another health plan, stop paying your premiums or if your former employer stops health coverage for its employees.

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Barry Eitel
Contributing Researcher


Barry Eitel is a content writer and journalist focused on insurance, small business and finance. He has researched and written about personal finance since 2012, with a special focus on entrepreneurship, freelancing and other small business operations. His writing on insurance and small business has been featured in 7x7, Brit + Co, Intuit Quickbooks, Bankrate, Policygenius and Lendio.