Ask the Experts: COBRA Qualifying Events and Spousal Coverage


During an open enrollment election period, if an employee drops spousal coverage, would this be a COBRA-qualifying event for the dropped spouse?


A group health plan is required to offer COBRA continuation coverage only to a qualified beneficiary after a “qualifying event” occurs.   A qualifying event is a certain event that would cause an individual to lose health coverage.

Under the COBRA Continuation Health Coverage rules, qualifying events for spouses are:

  • Voluntary or involuntary termination of the covered employee’s employment for any reason other than gross misconduct;
  • Reduction in the hours worked by the covered employee;
  • Covered employee becoming entitled to Medicare;
  • Divorce or legal separation from the covered employee; and
  • Death of the covered employee.

Given the fact that the loss of health coverage for this employee’s spouse was initiated by the employee’s voluntary change in spouse/dependent coverage during open enrollment, this would not be a qualifying event. However, this may be a qualifying event if one of the events listed above was the reason for the change in coverage.

Reference Link(s) and Resource(s):

  1. FAQs for Employers About COBRA Continuation Health Coverage:
  2. “An Employer’s Guide to Group Health Continuation Coverage Under COBRA”: