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After being laid off from her job as a systems analyst for a specialty chemicals company in December, Gabriela de Pompignan opted to hang on to her former employer’s insurance coverage under the federal law known as COBRA.
Laid-off workers typically pick up the total cost of premiums under COBRA, but her company paid roughly 75 percent of the expense for the first six months, leaving de Pompignan with a $659 monthly bill for the family plan covering her, her husband and their nine-year-old son.
What de Pompignan didn’t realize, however, was that she was eligible for an even better deal.
Under the American Rescue Plan Act President Joe Biden signed in March, COBRA premiums for laid-off workers are covered in full by federal funding for six months from April through September.
Neither her former employer nor the company administering COBRA benefits for her workplace told her about that option.
Under federal rules, she should have been sent a notice by May 31 informing her about the subsidy, which is generally available to people who were involuntarily laid off or whose hours were reduced and who are eligible for continued employer coverage under COBRA.
For people like de Pompignan who lost their jobs before April 1, the window to take advantage of the subsidized coverage is closing.
They have 60 days from the date their employer notified them of the COBRA subsidy to sign up for it — that’s July 31 if their employer notified them at the end of May.
People notified earlier already may have missed their opportunity.
People can sign up for the subsidy even if they didn’t elect COBRA coverage earlier, or if they had COBRA earlier and dropped it because it was too expensive or for another reason.
Those laid off or furloughed after April 1 have 60 days to sign up for regular COBRA coverage and the temporary financial assistance.
De Pompignan learned about the subsidy only because she happened upon a news story that described it.
Consumer advocates say they’re worried many more people may have been left in the dark about the subsidy since notices weren’t required to be sent to former workers until the end of May, two months after the benefit started.
“Even if everybody got the notices out on time, are folks reading them and understanding what they’re eligible for and what their options are?” said Katie Keith, an associate research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms.
Under federal COBRA law, people generally can choose to continue their employer health coverage for up to 18 months after being laid off.
They usually have 60 days to decide, though that deadline has been extended while the pandemic continues. The law applies to employers with 20 or more employees.