My husband was laid off last August. We've been under COBRA
till now. Yesterday his boss called to say he laid off more employees and is now down to 9 workers and he will no longer be providing health coverage as of that day. Can he give us such short notice and where can we go from here? We are 60 and 61 years old, just shy of Medicare
. Is there a program that will let us join Medicare early?
Answer: In order to for you to be on COBRA, there has to be a health plan at your former workplace to buy into. If the plan goes out of existence, so does your COBRA coverage, just like that. As for joining Medicare early, more bad news. Although the idea of allowing people aged 55 to 65 to buy into Medicare came up during the legislative debate on health reform, it didn’t make it into the final law.
You can always go shopping for insurance on the individual market, but it’s a rare person in your age bracket who doesn’t have some pre-existing condition
—even a seemingly minor one like taking medication for mild high blood pressure
—that’s going to make it hard to secure affordable coverage. Be aware that if you apply for health insurance and get turned down, you’ll have to disclose it
if you ever try to get other health or life insurance coverage. So first, seek an informal assessment of your chances from an experienced, reputable broker and then decide whether or not to go ahead.
As for your other options, it depends on what state you live in. In some states, you might have the right to buy "continuation" or "conversion" coverage from the company that provided your COBRA plan. And no matter where you live, you have the right, under the Health Insurance Portability and Affordability Act
(HIPAA), to purchase health insurance that will cover you from day one, including any pre-existing conditions. The kicker is that in most states, these options may be quite costly. Healthinsuranceinfo.net
, a noncommercial site maintained by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, has extensive state-by-state information on these post-COBRA options.
—Nancy Metcalf, Senior Program Editor
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