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Electronic Code of Federal Regulations

e-CFR Data is current as of December 17, 2014

Title 26Chapter ISubchapter DPart 54 → §54.4980b-7


Title 26: Internal Revenue
PART 54—PENSION EXCISE TAXES


§54.4980B-7   Duration of COBRA continuation coverage.

The following questions-and-answers address the duration of COBRA continuation coverage:

Q-1: How long must COBRA continuation coverage be made available to a qualified beneficiary?

A-1: (a) Except for an interruption of coverage in connection with a waiver, as described in Q&A-4 of §54.4980B-6, COBRA continuation coverage that has been elected for a qualified beneficiary must extend for at least the period beginning on the date of the qualifying event and ending not before the earliest of the following dates—

(1) The last day of the maximum coverage period (see Q&A-4 of this section);

(2) The first day for which timely payment is not made to the plan with respect to the qualified beneficiary (see Q&A-5 in §54.4980B-8);

(3) The date upon which the employer or employee organization ceases to provide any group health plan (including successor plans) to any employee;

(4) The date, after the date of the election, upon which the qualified beneficiary first becomes covered under any other group health plan, as described in Q&A-2 of this section;

(5) The date, after the date of the election, upon which the qualified beneficiary first becomes entitled to Medicare benefits, as described in Q&A-3 of this section; and

(6) In the case of a qualified beneficiary entitled to a disability extension (see Q&A-5 of this section), the later of—

(i) Either 29 months after the date of the qualifying event, or the first day of the month that is more than 30 days after the date of a final determination under title II or XVI of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 401-433 or 1381-1385) that the disabled qualified beneficiary whose disability resulted in the qualified beneficiary's being entitled to the disability extension is no longer disabled, whichever is earlier; or

(ii) The end of the maximum coverage period that applies to the qualified beneficiary without regard to the disability extension.

(b) However, a group health plan can terminate for cause the coverage of a qualified beneficiary receiving COBRA continuation coverage on the same basis that the plan terminates for cause the coverage of similarly situated nonCOBRA beneficiaries. For example, if a group health plan terminates the coverage of active employees for the submission of a fraudulent claim, then the coverage of a qualified beneficiary can also be terminated for the submission of a fraudulent claim. Notwithstanding the preceding two sentences, the coverage of a qualified beneficiary can be terminated for failure to make timely payment to the plan only if payment is not timely under the rules of Q&A-5 in §54.4980B-8.

(c) In the case of an individual who is not a qualified beneficiary and who is receiving coverage under a group health plan solely because of the individual's relationship to a qualified beneficiary, if the plan's obligation to make COBRA continuation coverage available to the qualified beneficiary ceases under this section, the plan is not obligated to make coverage available to the individual who is not a qualified beneficiary.

Q-2: When may a plan terminate a qualified beneficiary's COBRA continuation coverage due to coverage under another group health plan?

A-2: (a) If a qualified beneficiary first becomes covered under another group health plan (including for this purpose any group health plan of a governmental employer or employee organization) after the date on which COBRA continuation coverage is elected for the qualified beneficiary and the other coverage satisfies the requirements of paragraphs (b), (c), and (d) of this Q&A-2, then the plan may terminate the qualified beneficiary's COBRA continuation coverage upon the date on which the qualified beneficiary first becomes covered under the other group health plan (even if the other coverage is less valuable to the qualified beneficiary). By contrast, if a qualified beneficiary first becomes covered under another group health plan on or before the date on which COBRA continuation coverage is elected, then the other coverage cannot be a basis for terminating the qualified beneficiary's COBRA continuation coverage.

(b) The requirement of this paragraph (b) is satisfied if the qualified beneficiary is actually covered, rather than merely eligible to be covered, under the other group health plan.

(c) The requirement of this paragraph (c) is satisfied if the other group health plan is a plan that is not maintained by the employer or employee organization that maintains the plan under which COBRA continuation coverage must otherwise be made available.

(d) The requirement of this paragraph (d) is satisfied if the other group health plan does not contain any exclusion or limitation with respect to any preexisting condition of the qualified beneficiary (other than such an exclusion or limitation that does not apply to, or is satisfied by, the qualified beneficiary by reason of the provisions in section 9801 (relating to limitations on preexisting condition exclusion periods in group health plans)).

(e) The rules of this Q&A-2 are illustrated by the following examples:

Example 1. (i) Employer X maintains a group health plan subject to COBRA. C is an employee covered under the plan. C is also covered under a group health plan maintained by Employer Y, the employer of C's spouse. C terminates employment (for reasons other than gross misconduct), and the termination of employment causes C to lose coverage under X's plan (and, thus, is a qualifying event). C elects to receive COBRA continuation coverage under X's plan.

(ii) Under these facts, X's plan cannot terminate C's COBRA continuation coverage on the basis of C's coverage under Y's plan.

Example 2. (i) Employer W maintains a group health plan subject to COBRA. D is an employee covered under the plan. D terminates employment (for reasons other than gross misconduct), and the termination of employment causes D to lose coverage under W's plan (and, thus, is a qualifying event). D elects to receive COBRA continuation coverage under W's plan. Later D becomes employed by Employer V and is covered under V's group health plan. D's coverage under V's plan is not subject to any exclusion or limitation with respect to any preexisting condition of D.

(ii) Under these facts, W can terminate D's COBRA continuation coverage on the date D becomes covered under V's plan.

Example 3. (i) The facts are the same as in Example 2, except that D becomes employed by V and becomes covered under V's group health plan before D elects COBRA continuation coverage under W's plan.

(ii) Because the termination of employment is a qualifying event, D must be offered COBRA continuation coverage under W's plan, and W is not permitted to terminate D's COBRA continuation coverage on account of D's coverage under V's plan because D first became covered under V's plan before COBRA continuation coverage was elected for D.

Q-3: When may a plan terminate a qualified beneficiary's COBRA continuation coverage due to the qualified beneficiary's entitlement to Medicare benefits?

A-3: (a) If a qualified beneficiary first becomes entitled to Medicare benefits under title XVIII of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1395-1395ggg) after the date on which COBRA continuation coverage is elected for the qualified beneficiary, then the plan may terminate the qualified beneficiary's COBRA continuation coverage upon the date on which the qualified beneficiary becomes so entitled. By contrast, if a qualified beneficiary first becomes entitled to Medicare benefits on or before the date that COBRA continuation coverage is elected, then the qualified beneficiary's entitlement to Medicare benefits cannot be a basis for terminating the qualified beneficiary's COBRA continuation coverage.

(b) A qualified beneficiary becomes entitled to Medicare benefits upon the effective date of enrollment in either part A or B, whichever occurs earlier. Thus, merely being eligible to enroll in Medicare does not constitute being entitled to Medicare benefits.

Q-4: When does the maximum coverage period end?

A-4: (a) Except as otherwise provided in this Q&A-4, the maximum coverage period ends 36 months after the qualifying event. The maximum coverage period for a qualified beneficiary who is a child born to or placed for adoption with a covered employee during a period of COBRA continuation coverage is the maximum coverage period for the qualifying event giving rise to the period of COBRA continuation coverage during which the child was born or placed for adoption. Paragraph (b) of this Q&A-4 describes the starting point from which the end of the maximum coverage period is measured. The date that the maximum coverage period ends is described in paragraph (c) of this Q&A-4 in a case where the qualifying event is a termination of employment or reduction of hours of employment, in paragraph (d) of this Q&A-4 in a case where a covered employee becomes entitled to Medicare benefits under title XVIII of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1395-1395ggg) before experiencing a qualifying event that is a termination of employment or reduction of hours of employment, and in paragraph (e) of this Q&A-4 in the case of a qualifying event that is the bankruptcy of the employer. See Q&A-8 of §54.4980B-2 for limitations that apply to certain health flexible spending arrangements. See also Q&A-6 of this section in the case of multiple qualifying events. Nothing in §§54.4980B-1 through 54.4980B-10 prohibits a group health plan from providing coverage that continues beyond the end of the maximum coverage period.

(b)(1) The end of the maximum coverage period is measured from the date of the qualifying event even if the qualifying event does not result in a loss of coverage under the plan until a later date. If, however, coverage under the plan is lost at a later date and the plan provides for the extension of the required periods, then the maximum coverage period is measured from the date when coverage is lost. A plan provides for the extension of the required periods if it provides both—

(i) That the 30-day notice period (during which the employer is required to notify the plan administrator of the occurrence of certain qualifying events such as the death of the covered employee or the termination of employment or reduction of hours of employment of the covered employee) begins on the date of the loss of coverage rather than on the date of the qualifying event; and

(ii) That the end of the maximum coverage period is measured from the date of the loss of coverage rather than from the date of the qualifying event.

(2) In the case of a plan that provides for the extension of the required periods, whenever the rules of §§54.4980B-1 through 54.4980B-10 refer to the measurement of a period from the date of the qualifying event, those rules apply in such a case by measuring the period instead from the date of the loss of coverage.

(c) In the case of a qualifying event that is a termination of employment or reduction of hours of employment, the maximum coverage period ends 18 months after the qualifying event if there is no disability extension, and 29 months after the qualifying event if there is a disability extension. See Q&A-5 of this section for rules to determine if there is a disability extension. If there is a disability extension and the disabled qualified beneficiary is later determined to no longer be disabled, then a plan may terminate the COBRA continuation coverage of an affected qualified beneficiary before the end of the disability extension; see paragraph (a)(6) in Q&A-1 of this section.

(d)(1) If a covered employee becomes entitled to Medicare benefits under title XVIII of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1395-1395ggg) before experiencing a qualifying event that is a termination of employment or reduction of hours of employment, the maximum coverage period for qualified beneficiaries other than the covered employee ends on the later of—

(i) 36 months after the date the covered employee became entitled to Medicare benefits; or

(ii) 18 months (or 29 months, if there is a disability extension) after the date of the covered employee's termination of employment or reduction of hours of employment.

(2) See paragraph (b) of Q&A-3 of this section regarding the determination of when a covered employee becomes entitled to Medicare benefits.

(e) In the case of a qualifying event that is the bankruptcy of the employer, the maximum coverage period for a qualified beneficiary who is the retired covered employee ends on the date of the retired covered employee's death. The maximum coverage period for a qualified beneficiary who is the spouse, surviving spouse, or dependent child of the retired covered employee ends on the earlier of—

(1) The date of the qualified beneficiary's death; or

(2) The date that is 36 months after the death of the retired covered employee.

Q-5: How does a qualified beneficiary become entitled to a disability extension?

A-5: (a) A qualified beneficiary becomes entitled to a disability extension if the requirements of paragraphs (b), (c), and (d) of this Q&A-5 are satisfied with respect to the qualified beneficiary. If the disability extension applies with respect to a qualifying event, it applies with respect to each qualified beneficiary entitled to COBRA continuation coverage because of that qualifying event. Thus, for example, the 29-month maximum coverage period applies to each qualified beneficiary who is not disabled as well as to the qualified beneficiary who is disabled, and it applies independently with respect to each of the qualified beneficiaries. See Q&A-1 in §54.4980B-8, which permits a plan to require payment of an increased amount during the disability extension.

(b) The requirement of this paragraph (b) is satisfied if a qualifying event occurs that is a termination, or reduction of hours, of a covered employee's employment.

(c) The requirement of this paragraph (c) is satisfied if an individual (whether or not the covered employee) who is a qualified beneficiary in connection with the qualifying event described in paragraph (b) of this Q&A-5 is determined under title II or XVI of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 401-433 or 1381-1385) to have been disabled at any time during the first 60 days of COBRA continuation coverage. For this purpose, the period of the first 60 days of COBRA continuation coverage is measured from the date of the qualifying event described in paragraph (b) of this Q&A-5 (except that if a loss of coverage would occur at a later date in the absence of an election for COBRA continuation coverage and if the plan provides for the extension of the required periods (as described in paragraph (b) of Q&A-4 of this section) then the period of the first 60 days of COBRA continuation coverage is measured from the date on which the coverage would be lost). However, in the case of a qualified beneficiary who is a child born to or placed for adoption with a covered employee during a period of COBRA continuation coverage, the period of the first 60 days of COBRA continuation coverage is measured from the date of birth or placement for adoption. For purposes of this paragraph (c), an individual is determined to be disabled within the first 60 days of COBRA continuation coverage if the individual has been determined under title II or XVI of the Social Security Act to have been disabled before the first day of COBRA continuation coverage and has not been determined to be no longer disabled at any time between the date of that disability determination and the first day of COBRA continuation coverage.

(d) The requirement of this paragraph (d) is satisfied if any of the qualified beneficiaries affected by the qualifying event described in paragraph (b) of this Q&A-5 provides notice to the plan administrator of the disability determination on a date that is both within 60 days after the date the determination is issued and before the end of the original 18-month maximum coverage period that applies to the qualifying event.

Q-6: Under what circumstances can the maximum coverage period be expanded?

A-6: (a) The maximum coverage period can be expanded if the requirements of Q&A-5 of this section (relating to the disability extension) or paragraph (b) of this Q&A-6 are satisfied.

(b) The requirements of this paragraph (b) are satisfied if a qualifying event that gives rise to an 18-month maximum coverage period (or a 29-month maximum coverage period in the case of a disability extension) is followed, within that 18-month period (or within that 29-month period, in the case of a disability extension), by a second qualifying event (for example, a death or a divorce) that gives rise to a 36-month maximum coverage period. (Thus, a termination of employment following a qualifying event that is a reduction of hours of employment cannot be a second qualifying event that expands the maximum coverage period; the bankruptcy of an employer also cannot be a second qualifying event that expands the maximum coverage period.) In such a case, the original 18-month period (or 29-month period, in the case of a disability extension) is expanded to 36 months, but only for those individuals who were qualified beneficiaries under the group health plan in connection with the first qualifying event and who are still qualified beneficiaries at the time of the second qualifying event. No qualifying event (other than a qualifying event that is the bankruptcy of the employer) can give rise to a maximum coverage period that ends more than 36 months after the date of the first qualifying event (or more than 36 months after the date of the loss of coverage, in the case of a plan that provides for the extension of the required periods; see paragraph (b) in Q&A-4 of this section). For example, if an employee covered by a group health plan that is subject to COBRA terminates employment (for reasons other than gross misconduct) on December 31, 2000, the termination is a qualifying event giving rise to a maximum coverage period that extends for 18 months to June 30, 2002. If the employee dies after the employee and the employee's spouse and dependent children have elected COBRA continuation coverage and on or before June 30, 2002, the spouse and dependent children (except anyone among them whose COBRA continuation coverage had already ended for some other reason) will be able to receive COBRA continuation coverage through December 31, 2003. See Q&A-8(b) of §54.4980B-2 for a special rule that applies to certain health flexible spending arrangements.

Q-7: If health coverage is provided to a qualified beneficiary after a qualifying event without regard to COBRA continuation coverage (for example, as a result of state or local law, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (38 U.S.C. 4315), industry practice, a collective bargaining agreement, severance agreement, or plan procedure), will such alternative coverage extend the maximum coverage period?

A-7: (a) No. The end of the maximum coverage period is measured solely as described in Q&A-4 and Q&A-6 of this section, which is generally from the date of the qualifying event.

(b) If the alternative coverage does not satisfy all the requirements for COBRA continuation coverage, or if the amount that the group health plan requires to be paid for the alternative coverage is greater than the amount required to be paid by similarly situated nonCOBRA beneficiaries for the coverage that the qualified beneficiary can elect to receive as COBRA continuation coverage, the plan covering the qualified beneficiary immediately before the qualifying event must offer the qualified beneficiary receiving the alternative coverage the opportunity to elect COBRA continuation coverage. See Q&A-1 of §54.4980B-6.

(c) If an individual rejects COBRA continuation coverage in favor of alternative coverage, then, at the expiration of the alternative coverage period, the individual need not be offered a COBRA election. However, if the individual receiving alternative coverage is a covered employee and the spouse or a dependent child of the individual would lose that alternative coverage as a result of a qualifying event (such as the death of the covered employee), the spouse or dependent child must be given an opportunity to elect to continue that alternative coverage, with a maximum coverage period of 36 months measured from the date of that qualifying event.

Q-8: Must a qualified beneficiary be given the right to enroll in a conversion health plan at the end of the maximum coverage period for COBRA continuation coverage?

A-8: If a qualified beneficiary's COBRA continuation coverage under a group health plan ends as a result of the expiration of the maximum coverage period, the group health plan must, during the 180-day period that ends on that expiration date, provide the qualified beneficiary the option of enrolling under a conversion health plan if such an option is otherwise generally available to similarly situated nonCOBRA beneficiaries under the group health plan. If such a conversion option is not otherwise generally available, it need not be made available to qualified beneficiaries.

[T.D. 8812, 64 FR 5184, Feb. 3, 1999, as amended by T.D. 8928, 66 FR 1853, Jan. 10, 2001]



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