Q&A: Free COBRA coverage

April 16, 2021 4:44 PM

Thousands of our members are now eligible to return to their employer-sponsored health insurance for up to six months, from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021.

1 Q: What do I need to do to get free healthcare?

A: In order to receive free health insurance through the American Rescue Plan YOU MUST:

  1. meet the federal government’s eligibility criteria and;
  2. apply for subsidized COBRA. You have 60 days to enroll from when you receive your updated COBRA notice or April 1, whichever is later. See Question 4 for details on how to apply.

2 Q: Who is eligible for free COBRA coverage?

A: According to the official documents released by the Department of Labor, to be eligible for free COBRA, you:

  • MUST have a COBRA qualifying event that is a reduction in hours or an involuntary termination of a covered employee’s employment between 11/1/19 – 9/30/21;
  • MUST elect COBRA continuation coverage;
  • MUST NOT be eligible for Medicare; AND
  • MUST NOT be eligible for coverage under any other group health plan, such as a plan sponsored by a new employer or a spouse’s employer.

3 Q: Are my dependents eligible for free COBRA coverage?

A: Yes. Any dependents who were previously covered on your health insurance plan before you lost coverage (and are still eligible) can be included.

4 Q: How do I sign up for free COBRA?

A: In order to receive free COBRA coverage you MUST sign up directly with your employer-sponsored healthcare plan.

  • Scenario A: I was enrolled in health benefits with the Union’s Industry-Wide Employee Benefit Funds prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Laid off union workers should visit the Benefit Funds’ website to enroll. You will be able to enroll by secure email, by mail, or in person at 305 West 44th Street, Monday – Friday, 9 am – 5 pm. Click here to be redirected to their website.
  • Scenario B: I was enrolled in my employer’s healthcare plan prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Your healthcare plan provider is required to notify you of your right to enroll in subsidized COBRA by May 31st. Contact your Human Resources Department or Plan Administrator directly for more details and look out for mail from your healthcare plan.
  • Scenario C: I was enrolled in a UNITE HERE HEALTH plan (Plan 100, 105, 185, 400) prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • COBRA enrollment forms will be made available on your UNITE HERE HEALTH Member Portal in the next week or so. If you do not already have a Member Portal, click here to create one.
    • Important note: UNITE HERE HEALTH gave many workers free healthcare for the month of April. Even if you are currently receiving free coverage, you will need to enroll in COBRA to continue receiving free coverage from May through September 2021.

5 Q: For how long will I receive free COBRA coverage?

A: If you are eligible and lost your healthcare coverage on or after November 1, 2019, you can get up to six months of subsidized COBRA from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021.

6 Q: What benefits will be covered?

A: Upon enrollment and acceptance into the COBRA Subsidy Program, individuals will have the same healthcare plan they had before losing coverage. For individuals with the Industry-Wide Benefit Funds this includes including medical, pharmacy, dental, optical, hospitalization, MHAP, and EPO coverage (if applicable). Benefits that are not included with COBRA coverage are the HRA Card, short-term disability benefits, and life insurance policies. For further details, please contact the Health Benefits Fund regarding your healthcare benefits at (212) 586-6400.

7 Q: What if I enrolled in a health insurance plan on the Marketplace once I lost my employer-sponsored coverage?

A: Enrolling in a health plan through the Marketplace or directly through an insurance provider (such as MetroPlus or BlueCross BlueShield) DOES NOT disqualify you receiving subsidized COBRA. If you are otherwise eligible and wish to enroll in free COBRA, you should contact your new insurance provider to cancel your coverage.

Important Note: Many plans require you to cancel your coverage by the 15th of the month prior (i.e. cancel by April 15th for May coverage). We recommend that you contact your new plan sooner rather than later if you wish to cancel your coverage and enroll in free COBRA.

8 Q: What happens if I am not back to work when free COBRA coverage ends (for most members, October 1, 2021)?

A: If you have not returned to work and reestablished coverage through your job when your free COBRA ends, you may be eligible for a 60-day Special Enrollment Period on the Marketplace to enroll in an outside health insurance plan again.

9 Q: What is the deadline to sign up?

A: You must enroll in subsidized COBRA within 60 days of receiving a notice from your healthcare plan. We recommend that you elect subsidized COBRA as soon as possible to avoid any delays.

10 Q: Will I have to pay anything out of pocket for subsidized COBRA?

A: No. The cost of COBRA coverage will be 100% covered by the federal government for eligible individuals. This provision of the American Rescue Plan was the work of New York’s own Senator and our ally Chuck Schumer. Our Union is proud to have worked closely with Senator Schumer to make sure COBRA was 100% subsidized. You can read more about those efforts here.

11 Q: Will the Brooklyn and Harlem health centers reopen?

A: As the industry opens up and members are recalled to work and people sign up for COBRA, we will be hiring more doctors, expanding services, and reopening the Brooklyn and Harlem health centers. It will be a process (it won’t happen overnight). We will continue to keep you updated.