Appendix C: Health Insurance Marketplace and Alternatives to COBRA
Are there other coverage options besides COBRA continuation coverage?
Yes. Instead of enrolling in COBRA continuation coverage, there may be other more affordable coverage options for you and your family through the Health Insurance Marketplace, Medicaid, or other group health plan coverage options (such as a spouse’s plan) through what is called a “special enrollment period.” Some of these options may cost less than COBRA continuation coverage.
You should compare your other coverage options with COBRA continuation coverage and choose the coverage that is best for you. For example, if you move to other coverage you may pay more out of pocket than you would under COBRA because the new coverage may impose a new deductible.
When you lose job-based health coverage, it’s important that you choose carefully between COBRA continuation coverage and other coverage options, because once you’ve made your choice, it can be difficult or impossible to switch to another coverage option.
What is the Health Insurance Marketplace?
The Marketplace offers “one-stop shopping” to find and compare private health insurance options. In the Marketplace, you could be eligible for a new kind of tax credit that lowers your monthly premiums and cost-sharing reductions (amounts that lower your out-of-pocket costs for deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments) right away, and you can see what your premium, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs will be before you make a decision to enroll. Through the Marketplace, you’ll also learn if you qualify for free or low-cost coverage from Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). You can access the Marketplace for your state at www.HealthCare.gov.
Coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace may cost less than COBRA continuation coverage. Being offered COBRA continuation coverage won’t limit your eligibility for coverage or for a tax credit through the Marketplace.
When can I enroll in Marketplace coverage?
You always have 60 days from the time you lose your job-based coverage to enroll in the Marketplace. That is because losing your job-based health coverage is a “special enrollment” event. After 60 days your special enrollment period will end and you may not be able to enroll, so you should take action right away. In addition, during what is called an “open enrollment” period, anyone can enroll in Marketplace coverage.
If I sign up for COBRA continuation coverage, can I switch to coverage in the Marketplace? What about if I choose Marketplace coverage and want to switch back to COBRA continuation coverage?
If you sign up for COBRA continuation coverage, you can switch to a Marketplace plan during a Marketplace open enrollment period. You can also end your COBRA continuation coverage early and switch to a Marketplace plan if you have another qualifying event such as marriage or birth of a child through something called a “special enrollment period.” But be careful; if you terminate your COBRA continuation coverage early without another qualifying event, you’ll have to wait to enroll in Marketplace coverage until the next open enrollment period, and could end up without any health coverage in the interim.
Once you’ve exhausted your COBRA continuation coverage and the coverage expires, you’ll be eligible to enroll in Marketplace coverage through a special enrollment period, even if Marketplace open enrollment has ended. If you sign up for Marketplace coverage instead of COBRA continuation coverage, you cannot switch to COBRA continuation coverage under any circumstances.