How long does COBRA last?


The potential duration of COBRA varies depending on the type of COBRA Qualifying Event that has occurred. Generally, the duration is either 18 months or 36 months as outlined below and as also indicated by the “# Months of COBRA” on your COBRA Election Form. In no circumstances can COBRA extend beyond a maximum period of 36 months. 


18 Months of COBRA

If you are an employee or the dependent of an employee, you may elect up to 18 months of continued health coverage if you lose coverage due to the employee’s:

  • Termination of employment (whether voluntary or involuntary, except if termination is due to gross misconduct)
  • Reduction in work hours (to less than the minimum required to be eligible under the plan)


36 Months of COBRA

If you are an employee's spouse or dependent child, you may elect up to 36 months of continued health coverage if you lose coverage due to:

  • Divorce or legal separation In rare cases, this may include if a spouse is dropped from coverage prior to a divorce or legal separation as such an event may still be considered a Qualifying Event if the drop in coverage is determined to be in anticipation of the divorce or legal separation.
  • Death of the employee
  • Medicare entitlement of the employee (if this results in a loss of coverage from the plan). In addition, if you (the employee) become entitled to Medicare and, within 18 months, experience a termination of employment or reduction in work hours resulting in a loss of coverage, your covered dependents may elect to continue coverage for the period ending 36 months after the date you became entitled to Medicare. For example, if you (the employee) become entitled to Medicare on April 1st, then you retire on August 31st and you and your spouse experience a COBRA Qualifying Event, your spouse is eligible for 31 months of COBRA (36 months from April 1st) and you are eligible for 18 months of COBRA starting from September 1st.
  • Becoming an Ineligible Dependent  If you are a dependent child, you may elect up to 36 months of continued health coverage if you lose coverage due to no longer satisfying the dependent eligibility requirements (typically due to attaining the maximum age for dependents as specified by the plan)


If you are a retiree and your employer commences a bankruptcy proceeding, you and your dependents that lose a substantial portion of coverage within one year before or after the bankruptcy filing are also entitled to continuation coverage. Coverage may be continued for the lifetime of a retiree, or the lifetime of a surviving spouse of a retiree who was deceased at the time of the filing. If the retiree is living at the time of the filing, dependents are entitled to up to 36 months of coverage from the date of the retiree’s death. 



Can COBRA ever be extended? 


There are three special circumstances which allow COBRA coverage to be extended beyond an initial 18-month period. 


Subsequent Qualifying Event: If you or your dependents have a second, subsequent Qualifying Event during the initial 18 months of COBRA, your dependents may continue their coverage for up to 36 months total from the date of the initial Qualifying Event. Subsequent Qualifying Events include:


  • Dependent child ceases to be an eligible dependent under the plan

  • Divorce or legal separation

  • Death of the employee


In order for a dependent to be eligible for an extension of the initial COBRA period, notification of the subsequent COBRA Qualifying Event must be sent to Vita COBRA in writing within 60 days of the actual subsequent Qualifying Event date (if your health plan coverage terminates on “date of termination”) or 60 days from the end of the month following the subsequent Qualifying Event date (if your health plan coverage terminates at the “end of month”).


To determine if your health plan coverage terminates on the “date of termination” or “end of month”, please refer to the employer welfare plan document, or contact Vita COBRA directly. 


Social Security Disability Extension: If you or any family member have also been determined to have been disabled by Social Security on or before the date of the original Qualifying Event (termination of employment or reduction of work hours) or within the first 60 days of COBRA coverage, all Qualified Beneficiaries may extend COBRA coverage for up to 29 months total, from the date of the original Qualifying Event. Non-disabled family members on COBRA coverage may also be eligible for this extension. Written notice of the Social Security disability determination must be sent to Vita COBRA before the end of the initial 18 month COBRA period AND within 60 days starting from the later of the date on which Social Security Administration issued the disability determination letter, or the date coverage was lost following the original COBRA Qualifying Event date.


Cal-COBRA Extension (California Fully-Insured Medical Plans Only): The Cal-COBRA extension provides up to 36 months of medical coverage from the date federal COBRA coverage began. Eligibility for this extension requires that you are entitled to less than 36 months of federal COBRA, you are enrolled in a fully-insured medical plan written in the state of California, and you are not eligible for or enrolled in Medicare. The premium charged under this extension can be up to 110% of the full plan cost. Please contact your medical insurance company directly, in writing, well in advance of the termination date of your federal COBRA coverage, to inquire about the availability of this option. Cal-COBRA coverage is generally administered directly by the insurance carrier. 


There are no circumstances where COBRA continuation coverage can be extended beyond 36 months from the original Qualifying Event date.