My Spouse Just Died and I was on His/Her Group Health Plan. What are My Options for Health Insurance Coverage?
Most people don’t like to think about the mortality of their spouses. A lot of married couples just assume that they are going to live long, happy lives together and pass away at roughly the same time. In a dream world, that would certainly be the ideal situation; however, that’s often not how it happens. That’s why it’s so important for married couples to think about a future where their spouse may not be present. By having a plan of action, you can ensure that you aren’t left struggling even more than you already will be in the event that your spouse passes away.
One area that married couples should think about when making plans for their future is their health insurance coverage. This is particularly true for couples who are on the same group health plan. Millions of married American couples are covered by the same insurance policy, and generally, that policy is provided by either the husband’s or the wife’s employer. For example, roughly a quarter of all American women are covered by health insurance plans that are sponsored by their employers.
If you are one of the millions of Americans who receive health insurance benefits through your spouse’s plan, you might be wondering what type of coverage options are available to you in the event that your husband or wife does pass away. Below, find out what type of options you have for healthcare should the unthinkable happen.
Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act (COBRA)
Take comfort in knowing that your coverage won’t immediately be canceled if the unthinkable happens. While your spouse may have passed, there are federal regulations in place that prevent health insurance providers from dropping the deceased’s dependents from a policy, thanks to the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act (COBRA).
Congress passed this law as a way to prevent surviving spouses and dependent children from being dropped from a deceased’s spouse or providers (parents, for example) health insurance. Your coverage won’t last indefinitely, however; you can opt to continue your existing health insurance coverage for a period of 18 months, and in some cases, coverage can last for as long as 3 years. After your spouse passes away, his or her insurance provider must provide you with details about COBRA and the appropriate forms, which you will need to complete and file.
It’s important to note that the coverage you receive under COBRA will be more costly than the coverage you received while your spouse was living. That’s because your husband’s or wife’s employer isn’t obligated to continue paying for any portion of your coverage once he or she passes away. While there is a chance that the employer will continue to pay the same or at least some portion of the expense, most companies will not. If your spouse’s employer opts to discontinue the contributions they’ve been making toward the policy, you, the surviving spouse, will be required to cover the full cost of the premiums of your health insurance, including any amount that your spouse’s employer covered while he or she was living. You may have to pay some additional fees, too; however, if you elect to use the benefits that the Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act provides, you will continue to carry the same coverage that you had while your spouse was living.
While COBRA was designed to protect surviving loved ones in the event that a spouse passes away, for many, the cost is prohibitive. If you are concerned about the financial strain that COBRA will put on you and your family, you could seek employment that offers health benefits.
There are many employers throughout various industries that provide health insurance plans. Do understand, however, that the benefits will differ from employer to employer, as will the qualifications for receiving benefits. For instance, some companies may only provide coverage for full-time employees, while others offer plans for both full- and part-time workers, but the benefits differ. Or, some companies offer PPO plans, while others may offer HMO plans.
If you do decide to seek employment after your spouse passes away, do make sure that you speak to prospective employers about the health insurance coverage that they offer so that you fully understand what type of benefits you will receive.