Q. I've taken early Social Security benefits because I got laid off at 62. But I lost my health coverage and won't be eligible for Medicare until I'm 65. Where can I get affordable insurance in the meantime?
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A. Of all the questions we get at the Social Security Mailbox, this is one of the most difficult. Even though other health insurance may be available for people like you, it may not be affordable. But let's look at some of the options.
Long before the current economic downturn, there was COBRA. Those are the initials of the 1986 law that created it — the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. Basically, it gives former employees and their families the right to continue their company health coverage at group rates for up to 18 months.
However, it's likely to be more expensive than it was during the years of work. That's because the employer usually pays part of the cost of insurance for active workers, but COBRA participants usually pay it all themselves. Even so, the cost may be lower than private health insurance, because you will pay group premium rates, which are normally lower than individual ones.
A spouse's plan
If you have a spouse who has health insurance at work, you may be able to join that plan. And under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, people under 26 may be able to join their parents' plan.
Private health insurance
You can apply for private health insurance from companies licensed to offer it in your state. The cost is likely to be high and the company may reject you if you have a preexisting medical condition.
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