Today, the Department of Health and Human Services began accepting applications for a program that provides much needed financial relief for employers – as well as unions and state and local governments – providing coverage to early retirees.
The Early Retiree Reinsurance Program will provide $5 billion in financial assistance to help maintain coverage for early retirees age 55 and older who are not yet eligible for Medicare - another example of how health care reform is, and will continue to be, good for business.
As health care costs have skyrocketed, it has become harder for employers to provide health insurance not only to their current employees but also their retirees. A survey found that over the past several decades the percent of firms offering retiree health insurance has dropped by more than half. In 1988, two-thirds of large firms provided health benefits to retiring workers. In 2009, less than a third did so.
Americans who have retired but are not yet eligible for Medicare often struggle to find insurance that is affordable, or may see their life savings disappear because of exorbitant rates in the individual market. Many such early retirees rely on their former employers for affordable health care. The costs of such programs can be significant for employers who continue to provide these benefits.
The Early Retiree Reinsurance Program will provide an important bridge to early retirees and their former employers as we move toward a more competitive, patient-centered health care system in 2014.
For applications and more information about the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program visit www.hhs.gov/ociio.
Gary Locke is Secretary of Commerce