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This Web site contains a compilation of more than a thousand consumer finance  columns written by Tony Novak from the 1980s through 2006, updated and reformatted for maximum usefulness today.  New material was added after 2010.

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36 Months of spousal coverage under COBRA when employee starts medicare

originally posted: 6/22/2012      last update:

Q: I retired in 2011 and went on Medicare. My wife elected COBRA coverage from my employer and it will be 18 months next month. She is not eligible for Medicare until 2017. Since I went on Medicare can my wife stay on the plan for an additional 18 months? If so, what authority do I cite to my previous employer as the HR person is telling me that COBRA coverage ends after 18 months?

A: The Department of Labor Web site statement clarifies “When the qualifying event is the end of employment or reduction of the employee's hours, and the employee became entitled to Medicare less than 18 months before the qualifying event, COBRA coverage for the employee's spouse and dependents can last until 36 months after the date the employee becomes entitled to Medicare.” It seems that this applies in your situation. It would not normally require much effort on your part to continue your spouse’s benefits but the same DOL Web site provides information to request help in the event you have any trouble communicating this issue with your former employer or health plan administrator.

Unfortunately often when the HR staff at an employer tries to administer COBRA benefits themselves, errors occur. Simply notify the employer or plan administrator of the error in writing and immediately contact the Department of Labor using the procedure listed on their Web site link above  

COBRA is usually available to a spouse for 36 months when an employee becomes eligible for Medicare.

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