Dear ABC News Fixer: When my husband changed jobs last year, our medical insurance changed as well. His new employer did not offer health insurance and since I have a mild pre-existing condition, I could not get coverage -- even though I have been continuously insured for the past 18 years.
My husband and children purchased their own policy. I stayed on our old insurance, United Healthcare, on a new COBRA policy.
I pay on time each month, but each month I am told my coverage is cancelled for non-payment.
It took three months to figure out that United Healthcare was applying my payment to our old account instead of my new COBRA account.
Nine out of the 11 months I have been on this COBRA policy, I have encountered returned checks and been told my policy has been cancelled.
I just want to be able to see a doctor without the worry and embarrassment that I will be told I don't have insurance coverage.
- Mindy Seidman, Germantown, Tenn.
Dear Mindy: You said the United Healthcare reps you dealt with were all very nice and apologetic, and each time it happened they'd reinstate your insurance.
But after nine months on this merry-go-round, you were ready to get off.
This seemed simple – find someone there to make sure your payments go to the new account, not the old.
Sure enough, within a week after the ABC News Fixer got involved, they were able to fix your account.
Soon after, you got some good news – your husband got a new job that includes insurance for the entire family, including you. So no more COBRA, which is good because it was super expensive (you were paying about the same amount for yourself as your husband was paying for himself and the kids).
A word for others who might need COBRA at some point:
COBRA, which stands for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, is designed to give former employees, retirees, spouses, former spouses and dependent children temporary health coverage at group rates after an event such as job loss, divorce or death of a spouse.
It's cheaper than individual insurance but pricier than normal group coverage, because the employer is no longer kicking in any of the premium money – the consumer has to pay for it all.
Generally speaking, companies with 20 or more employees must offer COBRA.
You can get COBRA only if you were already enrolled in that employer's group health plan before the job loss or other event happened. Be sure to act fast, because the window to enroll is only 60 days. You can stay on COBRA for 18 months (up to 36 months for people with disabilities). If your employer goes broke and stops its health coverage entirely, you won't be able to get COBRA.
Ditto for employees who were fired for gross misconduct – they are not COBRA-eligible.
And yes, COBRA will exist even after 2014, when health care reform goes fully into effect.
- The ABC News Fixer
Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.