Protecting Retirement and Health Benefits After Job Loss

Job loss or a reduction in hours can result in a loss of retirement and health benefits. However, federal law may help protect employees’ and their families’ benefits when employment changes. Coverage options will vary depending on a variety of factors, so it’s a good idea to compare options before choosing. Here are a few options to consider:

You Can Enroll In Another Employment-based Health Plan

If you lose eligibility for your health care coverage when switching from one job to another, but other group health coverage is available (for example, through a spouse’s employment-based plan), consider enrolling in that plan via “special enrollment.” Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), special enrollment allows you and your family to enroll in a plan for which you are otherwise eligible, regardless of open enrollment periods. To qualify, you must request special enrollment within 30 days of losing eligibility for your original coverage. Your coverage must be effective no later than the first day of the first month following your request for enrollment.

If you enroll in employment-based group health plan coverage (such as special enrollment into a spouse’s plan), group health plans and insurers can’t refuse to cover treatment for preexisting conditions.

You Can Continue Your Current Coverage Through COBRA

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) can help former employees and their families temporarily continue their health care coverage. You may qualify for COBRA coverage if:

  • You were laid off, quit your job, or retired, or your hours were reduced;
  • You were not fired for gross misconduct;
  • Your employer had 20 or more employees;
  • You were a participant in your employer’s group health plan; and
  • Your employer continues to maintain a health plan.

Once your job ends, your plan must provide you with written notice explaining your rights under COBRA. You have 60 days from the date the notice is provided or from the date coverage ended – whichever is later – to sign up for COBRA coverage. It begins the day your health care coverage ended and lasts up to 18 months (and longer in some cases). However, the plan may require you to pay the entire group rate premium, plus a 2 percent administrative fee. (For more information on COBRA, see An Employee’s Guide to Health Benefits Under COBRA.)

You Can Enroll in Individual Coverage

Another option is to buy individual insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. The Marketplace lets you see the health plan options available in your area in one place. You may be eligible for a tax credit that lowers your monthly premiums right away. You can see what your premium, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs will be before you decide to enroll. You also may be eligible for a special enrollment opportunity in Marketplace coverage. For more information, visit

Protecting Your Retirement Assets

If you lose your job, ask your plan administrator for a copy of your retirement plan’s Summary Plan Description (SPD) and an individual benefit statement. The Summary Plan Description tells you what benefits the plan provides, when you can collect them, and, if you have a 401(k) account, whether your plan permits you to roll it over to a new employer’s plan or to an IRA. The individual benefit statement lets you monitor your account balance. Keep it with your important papers. Also, the individual benefit statement is provided on a periodic basis so make sure you notify your plan administrator of any change of address. (For more information on protecting your retirement benefits, see What You Should Know About Your Retirement Plan.)

Don’t Know Where to Start? Contact Us Today

Contact EBSA if you have questions about your rights and responsibilities under HIPAA, COBRA, the Affordable Care Act, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. You can speak to a benefits advisor at 1-866-444-3272 or go to

For more information about these options, visit Job Loss. For more information on the Health Insurance Marketplace, visit