Thinking about retiring early? As part of the decision, you’ve got to calculate whether you’ll have enough retirement income to meet your needs. While adding up the costs of customary living expenses, utilities, and an occasional vacation, don’t forget to include another important retirement expense: health insurance.
We’re living longer and health-care costs are surging. Unless you qualify for Medicare (you must be at least 65 for coverage) or you’re very wealthy, you probably can’t afford to go without health insurance. And, unless you’re lucky, you probably can’t rely on your former employer for coverage, since few companies offer retiree health-care benefits. Underestimating the impact of medical costs could significantly hamper your plans for a comfortable retirement.
Check out your working spouse’s insurance to see if you can be added to his or her policy. But adding you as an insured likely will increase the premium cost to your spouse.
Ask your employer if it’s possible to remain covered under its group plan. Usually, plans don’t extend coverage beyond active employees and their dependents. But, it’s sometimes possible to remain covered, though you’ll probably have to reimburse your employer for the cost to keep you on the plan.
COBRA may be another option allowing you to remain covered under your employer’s group health plan. If your retirement causes you to lose your health insurance, you can remain on your employer’s plan for a maximum of 18 months (with some exceptions). You’ll have to pay the entire premium amount, plus a possible 2% administrative fee. And keep in mind that employers with fewer than 20 employees don’t have to offer COBRA, so it might not be available.
Shop for individual coverage
If you’re going to buy an individual health insurance policy, you may find the premium cost to be quite steep, especially if you’re also insuring your spouse and dependents. And there’s no guarantee you’ll even receive coverage. In most states, insurance companies can examine your health history and medical records (called underwriting) in order to determine whether you qualify for insurance and at what cost.
Saving a few premium pennies
Here are a few suggestions that might help you lower the cost of individual health insurance. Group rates are usually less expensive, so look for health insurance plans offered by trade associations or churches. Be aware that while coverage might cost less, you may have to pay a membership or association fee to the group offering the coverage. Also, the plan may have high deductibles and co-payments, and the benefits and options, including your choice of physicians and medical facilities, may be limited.
Also, in states that allow underwriting (Texas is one of them), the cost of an individual policy of health insurance is based, in part, on your age and health. A preexisting medical condition could affect your premium or even cause you to be denied coverage. So before applying for new health insurance, consider getting in better shape, especially if you think you’re a little overweight. Smoking is also a ticket to a higher premium, so quit if you can. Since the insurance company will examine your medical records, review them first with your doctor to remove any inaccuracies, and to clarify the reasons for examinations or treatments.
Finally, if you’re denied coverage because of poor health, don’t despair; you may still be able to get insurance if your state sponsors a high risk pool (Texas does). However, this is truly the option of last resort because of the high costs. As an example, pricing for a 60-year-old non-smoking male in some of the NE Tarrant County zip codes is $894 per month as August 1 for a $2,500 deductible plan. To see all the Texas high risk pool premiums, go to the Texas Department of Insurance website.
Photo by: Andrew Steinmetz