COBRA: Supreme Court Rules Some Covered Employees Are Eligible
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday that fired or laid-off workers covered under a spouse's health insurance are still eligible for continued coverage from their own former employers under federal law. The AP/Houston Chronicle settled conflicting lower court rulings on the reach of the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), the law that guarantees limited continued coverage under a group health plan for employees who have lost their jobs. "The issue is whether (federal law) allows an employer to deny COBRA continuation coverage to a qualified beneficiary who is covered under another group health plan at the time he makes his COBRA election," Justice David Souter wrote for the Court's majority. "We hold that it does not," he wrote. Souter said a COBRA provision that "allows cancellation of coverage on 'the date on which the qualified beneficiary first becomes ... covered under any other group health plan'" does not apply to someone who has been continuously covered by a spouse's plan. The case was brought by James Geissal, a St. Louis man with cancer who was denied COBRA continuation benefits when he was fired from his job because he was covered under his wife's policy. Geissal's former employer "returned the premiums [he] had paid and refused to pay bills submitted by his health care providers," the AP/Chronicle reports. But Geissal "died before a federal judge ruled against him," and his widow lost the case on appeal (6/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.