Retiree Health Insurance:
Gaps in Coverage and Availability
GAO-02-178T, Nov 1, 2001
In 1999, about 10 million Americans aged 55 and older relied on employer-sponsored health benefits until they became eligible for Medicare or to pay for out-of-pocket expenses not covered by Medicare. However, the number of employers offering these benefits has declined considerably during the past decade. Despite the recent strong economy and the relatively low increases in health insurance premiums during the late 1990's, the availability of employer-sponsored health benefits for retirees has declined. Two widely cited surveys found that only about one-third of large employers and less than 10 percent of small employers offer such benefits. Alternative sources of health care coverage for retirees may be costly, limited, or unavailable. Retirees not yet 65 may be eligible for coverage from a spouse's employer or from their former employer. Other retirees not yet 65 may seek coverage in the individual insurance market, but these policies can be expensive or may offer more limited coverage, especially for those with existing health problems. Nearly one-third of retirees eligible for Medicare have employer-sponsored supplemental coverage, but many others buy private supplemental coverage known as "Medigap." It can cost upwards of $1,300 per year for Medigap policies that include prescription drug coverage. Neither Medicare nor private insurance covers a significant share of long-term care expenses.