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How long after a qualifying event do I have to elect COBRA coverage? How long do I have to elect coverage under a COBRA alternative plan?

Qualified beneficiaries must be given an election period at least 60 days during which each qualified beneficiary may choose whether to elect COBRA coverage.  This period is measured from the later of the coverage loss date or the date the COBRA election notice is provided by the employer or plan administrator.

As a practical matter, it is usually about three months from the date of termination of employment or other qualifying event the election deadline for COBRA.

COBRA alternative plans have no election deadline and application may be made at any time.

A key distinction is that COBRA requires retroactive premium payments and provides retroactive coverage. In contrast, a COBRA alternative coverage provides coverage only on a "going forward" basis starting, at the earliest, from the date of application.

revised 12/7/2011

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COBRA coverage may provide  temporary coverage when changing jobs, going through a divorce or negotiating other life transitions. Choosing the right health insurance is crucial to protect your health and financial security.