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Ask the Expert: Can I have both COBRA and Medicare?

Am I responsible to sign up for Medicare while I’m covered by COBRA insurance?

I’m 66 and still working. My wife is 62. I figured if I retire next summer, COBRA would cover us until she’s 65. Then we could each sign up for Medicare. Is this thinking correct?

No, it isn’t.

Many 65-year-olds who are covered through COBRA — the law that lets you keep your workplace health insurance for up to 36 months after your job ends — mistakenly assume they can postpone Medicare until COBRA expires. The result: They miss their Medicare enrollment deadline and must pay permanently higher premiums. In the worst-case scenario, they may face up to 15 months without primary health insurance.

Although you’re 66, you don’t yet have to enroll in Medicare because you’re covered by an employer with more than 20 employees for whom you actively work. Your Medicare sign-up deadline is eight months after your job ends or your workplace coverage ends, whichever comes first.

If you stop working in June 2018, your Medicare enrollment deadline is in February 2019. Even if your COBRA coverage continues, it will be secondary to Medicare — i.e., it won’t pay for anything that Medicare covers. To maintain seamless primary insurance, you should sign up for Medicare at least a month before your deadline. (For more information, go to or call 855-798-2627).

Ask both your employer and your current insurer if your wife’s primary coverage through COBRA will continue after you enroll in Medicare. If not, she can buy a policy in the state insurance exchange, aka New York State of Health, until she’s Medicare eligible. A person who loses health coverage can shop in New York State of Health at any time of year.

The bottom line: COBRA doesn’t extend your Medicare enrollment deadline.


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