Q&A: Free COBRA coverage

Updated: July 7, 2021 6:16 PM

Throughout this health crisis, our Union’s top priority has been to keep you and your loved ones on your healthcare. Through the power of our union contract, we were able to win many months of free medical coverage for you and your coworkers. Now, thousands of laid off members are eligible for up to six months of free health insurance from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021 under the American Rescue Plan.

Read our full Q&A on the program below.

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 (see Q2) and
  2. apply for subsidized COBRA.

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 (such as a reduction in hours or an involuntary termination) 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 (NYC Members): Laid off union workers who previously participated in the Union’s Industry Wide Benefit Funds should visit the Benefit Funds’ website hotelfunds.org to enroll.
  • Scenario B (Employer Healthcare): Contact your Human Resources Department or Plan Administrator directly for more details and look out for mail from your healthcare plan.
  • Scenario C (UNITE HERE HEALTH Plan 100, 105, 185, or 400): COBRA enrollment forms are available on your UNITE HERE HEALTH Member Portal. Visit uhh.org/rescue to sign up online.

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 NYC Members on the Union’s healthcare plan, this includes 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.

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 from 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.

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 should 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: It’s not too late! You have 60 days to sign up from the date that you receive your official COBRA notice by mail. Most NYC members will receive this notice at the end of May, giving them until the end of July to enroll.

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.

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

A: Yes! The Brooklyn health center partially re-opened on Monday, May 3rd. Initially, the health center will offer primary care visits, lab work, and pharmacy only. We look forward to eventually returning to full service at the Brooklyn health center and reopening the Harlem health center soon.

12 Q: What happens if I go back to work or become eligible for healthcare through my spouse, a second job, or Medicare while receiving the COBRA subsidy?

A: Regaining healthcare through your union job or becoming eligible to enroll in healthcare through your spouse, a second job, or Medicare will make you INELIGIBLE for the free COBRA subsidy. You must notify your COBRA provider right away to inform them of these changes. If you don’t report the change, you could be subject to a significant penalty.

For individuals who are married: Please be aware that the special enrollment period to enroll in your spouse’s healthcare may have been extended for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis or up to one-year. Contact your spouse’s healthcare plan to confirm. If you are eligible to get healthcare through your spouse, you are not eligible for the subsidy. Please notify your COBRA provider right away.

If you participate in the Industry-Wide Benefit Funds in New York City, please email HBFservices@hotelfunds.org or call (212) 586-6400.