Moving COBRA law forward

Officially, it’s the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1986, but most of us know it as COBRA. It’s the federal law that allows people who work at companies with 20 or more employees to keep their health insurance after leaving.

If your employer fires you for any reason other than gross misconduct, you’re eligible. You’re also eligible if a spouse dies or if you become disabled. The company must notify you within 44 days of your departure. If you don’t receive that notification, you can sue.

In most cases, you can purchase up to 18 months of coverage – longer if you’re leaving due to disability. It’s a boon for those with short gaps between jobs, though it can get pricey over longer periods. That’s because you’ll have to pay your share, the company share and a 2 percent administrative fee.

For some people, though, it’s the only option. This includes people with major illnesses who can’t quickly get on a spouse’s policy or purchase one of their own. It also includes those who lose a spouse through divorce or death.

In other situations, the employee might not have to pick up the full tab. Improved COBRA benefits commonly are part of separation or termination agreements. Also, your company made a mass layoff, a federal law called WARN – the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act – could protect your health benefits for up to two months.

In South Carolina, a state law similar to COBRA covers employees who work for smaller companies. The employer must offer only six months of continuation, but sometimes that’s enough to tide the employee over.

If you’ve recently left a job and you weren’t notified of your rights to continue your health insurance, Burnette Shutt & McDaniel can help. We represent clients in cases involving COBRA and South Carolina healthcare continuation violations as well as in WARN Act issues. We also can help companies make sure they’re complying with those laws, including notification.