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.
PCIP stands for preexisting condition insurance plan. If you're denied coverage because of a preexisting condition and have been uninsured for six months, you may be able to get insurance from a federal-state "high risk pool" created under the Affordable Care Act. PCIP insurance will last until Dec. 31, 2013, after which insurance companies will no longer be allowed to reject applicants because of preexisting conditions.
The current PCIP plan offers a broad range of health benefits, including prescription drugs. The costs and types of insurance vary by state but are generally a better bargain than private insurance. Go to this website to see the available PCIP plans.
Each state operates a Medicaid program that provides health coverage for low-income parents, children, older people and people with disabilities. Beginning in 2014, most adults under 65 who have individual incomes up to about $15,000 a year will qualify for Medicaid in every state.
New Free Preventive Health Services
As of Aug. 1, 2012, the Affordable Care Act requires health plans to offer about 47 million women eight prevention-related services, without deductibles or copays. The services include well-woman visits, diabetes screening and contraceptive education and counseling. Men and children also are eligible to use various free prevention services.
Community Health Facilities
The country has about 8,500 of these facilities, which treat about 20 million people a year. The centers serve anyone who walks in, regardless of insurance coverage, providing care for free or at reduced rates, depending on ability to pay. Go to this website for more details on community health facilities.
Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question? Check out the AARP Social Security Question and Answer Tool.
Remember to go to the AARP home page every day for tips on keeping healthy and sharp, and great deals.