Some Missouri workers may worry about losing their health care and retirement benefits after they are separated from their employment or even just had a significant reduction in their hours. But there are federal laws in place to help workers protect their access to benefits after experiencing a job loss.

When the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was passed in 1996, it made it easier for employees to hold onto their insurance coverage while transitioning between jobs. Sometimes a worker can qualify through a spouse’s work benefits. Usually there are requirements regarding the time frame allowed to switch plans, generally about a month from the time of the termination of benefits. The worker will need to request a special enrollment so coverage can be in force no later than the first of the month after enrolling.

When President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law, workers can no longer be denied coverage for preexisting conditions through their special enrollments in a spouse’s work-sponsored health care benefits.

Another federal protection allowing former workers to retain health care benefits is the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985. COBRA covers the worker, their spouse and dependent children in the event of lay-offs, retirement and voluntary separation of employment. Those whose hours were reduced also can seek COBRA coverage. Being terminated for gross misconduct, however, disqualifies former employees from any benefits. Other restrictions also apply.

The plan provider is required to send former employees a written notice of their COBRA rights. The worker then has 60 days from the date of the notice or the coverage lapse, whichever may be later, to get coverage under COBRA. This coverage generally lasts for 18 months if necessary. However, in some cases, it may be extended even further.

COBRA benefits can be prohibitively expensive compared to the low costs offered to employees under their employer’s plan. It is generally used for shorter periods due to the expense of maintaining long-term coverage. Seeking coverage under the ACA may be a much cheaper alternative for out of work employees.

If you have been unfairly denied the right to continue health care coverage, you may wish to consult a legal professional about the options available to you.

Source: Department of Labor, “Protecting Retirement and Health Benefits after Job Loss” Dec. 24, 2014