COBRA Warning for People Eligible for Medicare

COBRA Warning for People Eligible for Medicare

If you are eligible for Medicare, regardless of whether you signed up for it, COBRA can bite you! COBRA – the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act – gives you the legal right to continue group health benefits when they might otherwise end due to job loss, divorce or death. They are the same as those you had in the employer plan. Yet, federal rules that apply while you are working and eligible for Medicare are very different when you stop working and are on COBRA.

If you are eligible for Medicare when you sign up for COBRA, your benefits will be secondary to Medicare, even if you haven’t actually signed up for Medicare yet. And you could be subject to late enrollment penalties when you do sign up for Medicare later. In addition, a COBRA carrier might be able to recover from you any benefits that were paid as primary coverage, even though you paid the entire premium that you and your employer paid while you were working.  See our COBRA section for more information on the relationship between COBRA benefits and Medicare.

Call your local Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) for additional questions and assistance.

If you are on COBRA and then later you qualify for Medicare, you will lose your COBRA benefits and none of this will apply to you.

Our blogger Karen J. Fletcher is CHA's publications consultant. She provides technical expertise, writing and research on Medicare, health disparities and other health care issues. With a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley, she serves in health advocacy as a trainer and consultant. See her current articles.