THE BLOG
06/11/2013 04:00 pm ET Updated Aug 11, 2013

Cobra: Health Insurance in Snake's Clothing

I give you Cobra - the health insurance - formally known as the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. It is a fairly well known way for workers to retain their group health insurance temporarily after they leave a job. Those who qualify pay up to 102% of the cost of the plan but are fortunate enough to maintain their health insurance while they look for employment.

It is not to be confused with the cobra snake, though they appear to share many qualities. They are both merciless and often deadly, frequently elusive and elicit panic and fear in those who encounter them. At least that is my experience as I try to navigate the treacherous shoals of Cobra the health insurance. But, you may wonder, how hard can it be? You leave a job, fill out some paperwork and write a bloated check. Voila! In most cases, you don't even need a new insurance card. Isn't it one of the few government programs that is fairly pain-free?

I am here to tell you that is not the case. I left a job on April 29, assuming there would be a short lag time as I awaited paperwork from the benefits administrator who represented my former employer. Paperwork? Yes, that's right. You have to not only wait for paperwork to arrive in the mail, you can't fax or email it back. You have to sign the papers, put a stamp on an envelope and mail it back. Yes, it's some kind of homage to the Seventies.

So you'll have to take my word for it that I filled out all the paperwork correctly and on May 6 mailed a check for $900 plus change to the administrator in Seattle (I live in Virginia.) How long do you think it took before Cobra went into effect for my daughter and me? Sometime in May, you might guess. Nope. Afraid not. June? Not yet despite the fact that I was induced to send a second check to cover June's Cobra coverage. That's right. I've invested almost $2000 in Cobra and am still told by pharmacists and hospital staff that I have to pay for services as I have no health coverage. Every once in a while the administrator will confirm that I have coverage but it seems to vanish just as quickly.

Lest you think I am sitting around waiting for my horoscope to indicate that I'll have a Lucky Day, I have tallied up the total amount of time I've spent on the phone with CareFirst and the Cobra administrator - 11.40 hours! Yes, almost a day and a half of my life. But CareFirst claims I am simply not covered and the Cobra administrator mumbles something about "manual entry of information." And both urge me to be patient.

So what does this mean to me? I am wary of sharp objects and moving vehicles, knowing that my arrival at an emergency room will likely be met with a disapproving tsk tsk, no insurance on this one. And where, you might join me in wondering, is my $2000? I'm betting on a snake charmer.

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