If you're not quite old enough for Medicare and need to buy health insurance on your own, the Affordable Care Act could be an enormous blessing.
The best thing about this law for people living in retirement is that insurers can't refuse to sell you a policy or charge you more for it if you have a "pre-existing condition" -- you were diagnosed with a medical condition or health problem prior to enrolling in a health plan. Insurers also can't up the price because of gender -- older women can't be charged more than older men. Some states have decided to let insurers charge different rates based on age, but other states aren't even allowing insurers to do that.
This isn't "mini-med insurance." To sell insurance through the government's health insurance marketplace, insurers must include the kind of services that older people in particular need: doctor visits, emergency services, hospitalization, prescription drugs, laboratory services, preventive health care and management of chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
The prices aren't cheap, but you can earn quite a bit of money and still get some government help to pay for the insurance. A family of four can earn as much as $94,000 and still be eligible for assistance. If you earn less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level -- $2,394 per month as a single person or $3,231 per month as a couple -- you qualify for significant help, including subsidies to pay such out-of-pocket health care costs as deductibles and copays. The Kaiser Family Foundation offers this example: A single 60-year-old living in Indianapolis will be able to buy a standard "silver" plan without subsidies for $626 a month. That price drops to $193 after subsidies. A more modest "bronze" plan will be $531 a month without a subsidy, but only $97 a month after subsidies.
You can use the foundation's calculator at KFF.org/health-reform to figure out whether you'll be eligible for a subsidy and how much it is likely to be.
Open enrollment doesn't start until Oct. 1 and the insurance doesn't take effect until Jan. 1, but you can go to the government's comprehensive website at HealthCare.gov and sign up in advance, so you'll be ready when the insurance goes up for sale.
Even if you're happy with your current insurance, it doesn't cost anything to shop, and you may be pleasantly surprised. This could prove to be a retirement planning boon for many. Just knowing that it is possible to buy health insurance on your own is liberating. You no longer have to stay tethered to an employer just because you need health insurance.