Q: I am a widow receiving medical coverage through COBRA and reimburse my husband’s former employer for the premium. Is it possible to continue “buying” my coverage through the company once the maximum 36 months are over?
A: That’s probably not going to be possible. Under the federal law known as COBRA, you’re entitled to continue coverage under your husband’s former health insurance plan for up to 36 months following his death. But according to benefits consultants I asked, the company would be unlikely to continue that coverage beyond the timeframe spelled out in the law because it could be perceived as an arbitrary decision, and companies need to be consistent in their coverage decisions. If you exhaust your COBRA coverage, however, and you’re not eligible for another group health plan, under federal law you’re guaranteed access to an individual insurance plan. Unfortunately, the coverage may be expensive, especially if you have pre-existing medical conditions. Starting in January, the situation should improve. You’ll be able to go onto your state’s health insurance exchange and look for individual coverage there. Insurers won’t be allowed to turn you down because of medical conditions nor charge you a higher rate, and depending on your income you may qualify for a premium tax credit to make coverage more affordable.