Can I trade my COBRA for a marketplace health plan?

By Nancy MetcalfConsumer Reports

Q. I have COBRA coverage until June of 2014. When it runs out can I get a health insurance policy from my state Health Insurance Marketplace? Or can I drop it early and select marketplace coverage as of January 2014?

A. Smart and timely questions, which I referred to Karen Pollitz, an insurance expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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COBRA gives workers and their families who lose their health benefits because of job loss and certain other events the right to continue coverage for limited periods of time. You usually have to pay most or all of the premium on your own.

“If you’re already enrolled in COBRA, during open enrollment—whicn continues until March 31, 2014—you’ll be able to shop for a marketplace plan. You can drop your COBRA when your new coverage starts,” Politz said.

The soonest that can happen is Jan. 1, 2014, because that’s the earliest that marketplace plans can start. If you enroll in a marketplace plan before Dec. 15, coverage will start on January 1. If you wait until later in December, coverage won’t start until Feb. 1.

If you don't register for a marketplace plan during this year's open enrollment, you'll be stuck with your COBRA either until the next open enrollment period starts (in October, 2014) or until your COBRA runs out (in your case, June 2014) or until you have some other "qualifying event." Other events that give you a opportunity to buy a market place plan out of season include divorce or the death of a spouse.

—Nancy Metcalf

Health reform countdown: We are doing an article a day on the new health care law until Jan. 1, 2014, when it takes full effect. (Read the previous posts in the series.) To get health insurance advice tailored to your situation, use our Health Law Helper.

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