Official State of Iowa Website

Continuation of Health Coverage (COBRA)

An important benefit many people get from their employer is access to a group health insurance plan. Once employment ends, you may have the right to continue your health insurance on your employer’s plan. The federal law that provides this right is known as “COBRA.” Iowa law also provides continuation rights covering smaller employers, which is often called “mini-COBRA.”

It is not just the worker that can benefit from COBRA. For example, if a worker gets divorced, the worker’s spouse may be able to continue health care coverage under COBRA.

Employers often pay part of the insurance premium for workers. Under COBRA, employers don’t have to pay part of the insurance premium, so coverage is usually more expensive.

Which employers are covered by COBRA?

COBRA typically applies to private employers with at least 20 employees, as well as to state and local government employers. COBRA does not apply to the federal government, churches, or some church-related organizations.

Iowa’s law on continuing group health insurance applies to employers with between 2 and 19 employees. The law is located at Iowa Code chapter 509B.

When does COBRA coverage apply?

COBRA coverage applies when a “qualifying event” occurs. To be a qualifying event, the event must cause the beneficiary to lose coverage under the plan. Examples of qualifying events include:

  • A covered employee dies.
  • A covered employee quits.
  • A covered employee is fired (except if the employee is fired for “gross misconduct”) or the employee's hours are cut.
  • A covered employee gets divorced or legally separated from their spouse.
  • A covered employee becomes entitled to Medicare benefits.
  • A covered employee's dependent child no longer qualifies as a dependent child under the health care plan.

Who can continue coverage and for how long?

Who can choose to be continue coverage and for how long varies depending on the qualifying event. The chart below shares some basics.

Qualifying Event

Possible Beneficiaries

Typical Maximum Period of Coverage

Fired (for reasons other than gross misconduct), quit, or had hours reduced



Dependent Child

18 months

Enrolled in Medicare


Dependent Child

36 months

Divorce or legal separation


Dependent Child

36 months

Death of employee


Dependent Child

36 months

Loss of “dependent child” status under the plan

Dependent Child

36 months


If you don’t qualify for continuing health coverage under COBRA, other health care options exist. Visit for more information.

Where can I find more information?

Employee Benefits Security Administration:

U.S. Department of Labor: 

Iowa SHIIP, Continuation of Employer Group Health Insurance

Ask a Law Librarian

An Employee's Guide to Health Benefits Under COBRA by the Employee Benefits Security Administration

An Employer's Guide to Group Health Care Continuation Coverage Under COBRA

Related Pages

Work Law 

Can my employer fire me for any reason?

Unemployment Insurance Benefits


The information in the People's Law Library is for informational purposes only. Nothing on this website is legal advice. The law is complicated and many aspects of the law change regularly. Consider reaching out to a lawyer. More information about how to find a lawyer, including free and low-cost options, is available on the Finding a Lawyer page.