Assembly OKs Bill Extending COBRA
Would Eliminate Health Coverage Gap
The State Assembly has passed an amendment to the COBRA benefits law allowing a group of individuals who were covered at the time before the law became effective earlier this year—but were unable to apply for an extension of their benefits—to continue receiving coverage, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan announced.
The original law, passed in June, extended COBRA benefits from 18 to 36 months for individuals whose policies were issued or renewed after July 1 of this year (Ch. 236 of 2009).
“With the national unemployment rate at a 26-year high, an increasing number of workers are experiencing extended periods of job loss or being forced to work part-time,” Nolan said. “The result is a loss of group health insurance coverage that these workers cannot afford.”
As noted, the original law extended health insurance coverage offered through COBRA, but the timeframe for renewing certain contracts inadvertently disqualified a number of individuals. This chapter amendment ensures that these struggling New Yorkers continue to receive the health benefits they need.
The chapter amendment:
• provides a special enrollment period for this group of individuals to receive benefits;
• requires coverage issued during the special enrollment period to be prospective;
• provides up to a total of 36 months of benefits;
• prohibits any pre-existing condition exclusions from applying to lapses in coverage;
• allows insurers 30 days to make a reasonable effort to provide written notice of the special enrollment period;
• gives those individuals who receive notice 60 days to enroll and those who do not receive notice six months from the immediate effective date; and
• changes the effective date from the reliance upon renewal to a flat effective date for all policies and contracts on or after Nov. 1.
COBRA allows workers and their families who lose their health benefits— because of voluntary or involuntary job loss, reduction in hours worked, transition between jobs, death, divorce or other life-altering events—the right to continue their health benefits provided by their group health plan for a limited period of time.
As companies downsize, older workers are often offered early re- tirement options as an alternative to lay-offs. These individuals may not have retiree health benefits and can be years away from Medicare. This bill allows these individuals to maintain their existing coverage for a longer period of time, without which they would be uninsured after 18 months.
“Providing New Yorkers with coverage, particularly if their employment status is reduced, is a priority,” Nolan concluded. “This extension ensures that affordable health insurance coverage is available to those who need it.”
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