Question of the month: Do I have to go on my new employer’s plan or can I stay on COBRA?

Q: I’m currently enrolled on COBRA under my former employer’s medical plan. I now have a new job. After looking at their benefit offering, I’ve decided I would like to stay on my COBRA coverage. Can I stay on COBRA and turn down the new employer benefits?


A:  Good news! Yes, you can turn down the new benefits and stay on COBRA through your old employer’s plan for a total of 18 months. Federal COBRA rules say you must terminate your COBRA coverage “when you enroll in new group medical coverage” and not “when you become eligible for new group medical coverage.” Often COBRA participants elect to stay on COBRA because they have met their calendar year deductible and don’t want to start a new plan mid-year with a new deductible to meet. Sometimes the old COBRA plan is richer in benefits than the new group plan. Or, perhaps a COBRA participant is in the middle of an insurance approved treatment for an illness or injury and it makes sense to keep the COBRA coverage to avoid the complications of new coverage denials or delayed processing of claims requiring additional medical necessity documentation.

When your 18 months of COBRA ends, you have special HIPAA Enrollment Rights that allow you to join your new employer’s plan at that time regardless of whether it’s open enrollment or mid-year. So, don’t worry and keep those COBRA benefits.

— Gina