Senator Roland Burris (D-IL) has introduced a bill that would extend temporarily the 18-month period of healthcare continuation coverage required by the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). The COBRA Coverage Extension Act of 2009 (S. 1488) would provide up to 24 months of continuation coverage under group health plans required under COBRA, the law that amended the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Internal Revenue Code and the Public Health Service Act to provide continuation of group health coverage for certain qualifying former employees, retirees, spouses, former spouses and dependent children. Specifically, S. 1488 would entitle any individual who is eligible for and has elected continuation coverage under COBRA as of the date of this bill’s enactment, and whose coverage would end before 12 calendar months had elapsed from the date of enactment due to an 18-month continuation limitation, to continue coverage until a full 12 months had passed after the date of enactment, or 24 months after the date of the qualifying COBRA event, whichever is earlier. This bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
This bill joins another recent measure aimed at extending COBRA continuation coverage. The House’s much-publicized healthcare bill, America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 (H.R. 3200), includes an amendment that would extend COBRA coverage until the individual becomes covered under another employer’s group health plan or under a health insurance exchange plan, the latter of which would be created under the bill itself. The extension would not apply to certain medical flexible spending arrangements. Offered by Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA), this amendment was approved by voice vote by the House Committee on Education and Labor on July 17. Given the development of the health insurance exchange system would not be established until the year 2013 at the earliest, it is conceivable that if this bill were to pass, COBRA continuation coverage could be extended for years. This healthcare bill has been approved by both the House Committees on Education and Labor, and Ways and Means.