Some 3.4 million Americans over age 55 left the labor force during the pandemic, according to Goldman Sachs research from November 2021.
Many of those workers have something in common: a sudden need for health insurance.
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The stakes are high. Health care needs can be substantial at this age, and many workers have a spouse and children on their plan. It’s no surprise that roughly 1 in 4 Americans ages 50 to 64 — too young for Medicare — regard health care costs as a major financial burden, according to a recent West Health–Gallup survey.
If you have a spouse with access to employer-provided health insurance, your best solution is usually to join that policy. Otherwise, the market beckons. One bright spot: Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans have gotten more affordable for many people.
Should you be too young for Medicare and not have an employer-sponsored plan you can sign up for, here are alternatives.
If you’ve had health insurance through your employer and you quit, get fired or are laid off, you may qualify for 18 more months of coverage through the 1985 law known as COBRA. The law, which applies to businesses with 20 or more employees and to state and local governments, guarantees continued coverage.
Under COBRA, however, you have to pay the full monthly premium — both your contribution and any share that your employer may have paid. That can be a lot. “COBRA coverage is often cost-prohibitive to many people,” says Howard M. Zimmerman, an independent insurance agent with MarketPlace Insurance Agency in Boynton Beach, Florida.
If you use COBRA, however, you don’t have to pay a premium upfront. In normal times, you can wait up to 60 days after your employee coverage expires to sign up for COBRA, and then wait up to 45 days more to start paying a premium; your COBRA coverage will be considered effective the day after your employee coverage expired. Currently, as long as COVID-related employee benefit relief remains in effect, you have even more time to sign up and pay — at least a year. But if you need coverage for care, you’ll have to pay premiums going back to when you lost your employee coverage — maybe several months’ premiums at once.
- Uninterrupted coverage is guaranteed upon leaving your job.
- Costly, but no upfront payment