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Health Care & Insurance

This Cobra Saves Lives

If you lose your job, you won't lose your health insurance.Updated June 2010.

WHAT IS COBRA?
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act is a federal law passed in 1986. It requires companies with 20 or more employees to continue offering health insurance at group rates to former employees and their family members after they're no longer eligible for the group -- because of job loss or divorce, for example. Some states have similar rules for companies with fewer than 20 employees.

WHO QUALIFIES?
Former employees, spouses, former spouses and dependent children are eligible, regardless of their health. There are exceptions: You cannot get COBRA if your employer no longer offers health insurance to current employees. You're also out of luck if the company goes out of business. Federal employees are covered by a law similar to COBRA.

HOW LONG DOES IT LAST?
COBRA provides up to 18 months of coverage from the time you leave your job or drop to part-time status. The coverage lasts up to 36 months after you no longer qualify as a dependent on an employee's policy. That includes, for example, a child who reaches the cutoff age for coverage or a former spouse who gets a divorce from the employee.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
Probably more than you expect. You have to pay the employee's and the employer's share of the premium -- or an average of $13,375 for families in 2009 -- plus up to 2% in administrative costs.

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WHO SHOULD TAKE IT?
You can't be rejected or charged more under COBRA because of your health, so it's a good deal for people with medical conditions who might otherwise have a tough time finding affordable insurance. But if you're healthy and live in a state with a competitive health-insurance market (which includes most states other than New York and New Jersey), you may find a better deal on your own. You can search for individual policies at Ehealthinsurance.com.