If you're out of work and relying on COBRA insurance for medical expenses, you'll be happy to know it works for dentists as well as doctors. If you didn't have dental coverage at your former job, however, COBRA's not going to help you know: The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act only gives you the right to keep your old insurance.
COBRA dental kicks in when you quit, get laid off or get fired, unless your employer fires you for gross misconduct. It also applies if your boss cuts back your hours so much you no longer qualify for the employee medical plan. The company must notify its health insurer within 30 days of your "qualifying event." The insurer then has 14 days to ask you if you want to keep your coverage; then you have 45 days to reply. Once you accept COBRA, you're retroactively insured back to the day you left the job.
Your former employer has to let you keep your insurance, but he doesn't have to pay for it. If you accept COBRA, you owe not only the share of the premiums you paid as an employee, but the share your employer paid as well. With administrative fees on top, you pay 102 percent of the total premium cost each month. You're still part of a group plan, though, so your dental and medical rates are probably lower than if you bought a new policy as an individual.
COBRA dental coverage isn't eternal: Unless you get a disability extension, all your COBRA insurance ends 18 months after you left your job. If the company stops covering employees before that, you lose your coverage even sooner. This could happen if the company stops insuring employees completely, changes coverage to eliminate dental benefits or goes out of business. If you miss premiums or consistently pay them late, that could be grounds for your former employer to end your coverage.
Even if you decide to do without COBRA yourself, you can still use it to buy dental coverage for your spouse, partner or child. If you daughter was covered under your former employer's dental plan, for instance, she can stay covered after you quit your job. If you marry during the year, you can enroll your spouse and any stepkids in the plan at the company's next open enrollment period. You can add a new baby at any time, provided it's within 30 days of the birth.
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