What are my health-care options if I retire early?
If you're eligible for an early-retirement package from your employer, determine whether post-retirement medical coverage is included. These packages sometimes provide medical coverage until you reach age 65 and become eligible for Medicare. Given the high cost of medical care, you might find it hard to turn down an early-retirement package that includes such coverage.
If your package doesn't include post-retirement medical coverage, or you're not eligible for an early-retirement package at all, you'll need to look into alternative sources of health insurance, such as COBRA continuation coverage or an individual health insurance policy, to carry you through to Medicare eligibility.
Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), most employer-provided health plans (typically employers with 20 or more employees) must offer temporary continuation coverage for employees (and their dependents) upon termination of employment. Coverage can last for up to 18 months, or 36 months in some cases. You'll generally have to pay the full cost of coverage--employers aren't required to continue their contribution toward coverage, and most do not. Employers can also charge an additional 2% administrative fee.
Individual health insurance is available directly from various insurance carriers or, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, through state-based or federal health insurance marketplaces. One advantage of purchasing coverage through a marketplace plan is that you may be entitled to a premium tax credit if your post-retirement income falls between 100% and 400% of the
federal poverty level (additional income-based subsidies may also be available).
Some factors to consider when comparing various health options are (1) the total cost of coverage, taking into account premiums, deductibles, copayments, out-of-pocket maximums, and (for marketplace plans) tax credits and subsidies; (2) the ability to continue using your existing health-care providers (and whether those providers will be in-network or out-of-network); and (3) the benefits provided under each option and whether you're likely to need and use those benefits.