What Georgia retirees should know about choosing health insurance

Retirees who are looking for health insurance this enrollment season have several options, which largely depend on their age, income and circumstances.

The following is what you need to know about the choices that may be available to you:

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Medicare

Retirees who are 65 or older can qualify for Medicare. Search for plans online by putting in just your zip code or your zip code and some specific information.

With Medicare, the key is to look at covered expenses, according to David Wiley, an insurance agent with HealthMarkets in Atlanta. Medicare Advantage Plans are often better options because they have added benefits and more doctors accept them, he said.

If you need help understanding your choices and enrolling in a plan that meets your needs, contact GeorgiaCares. This public-private partnership has volunteers that provide free assistance that's not affiliated with any insurance company.

Your former employer

Your former employer may offer health care insurance to retirees. You'll probably pay more for it than when you were an employee, but it's worth considering since you may still pay less than you would on your own, and your benefits will probably be fairly generous.

If you're newly retired, or if you were on your spouse's employer-based plan and he or she passed away during the year, you can usually apply for COBRA. This enables you to pay to stay on your former employer's plan for a short period of time. It costs more than it did when you were an employee since the company no longer pays part of your premiums, but it may still be a bargain compared to other alternatives. You'll be able to stay on COBRA for at least 18 months, so this can give you some time to consider other alternatives or turn 65 and qualify for Medicare.

The Affordable Care Act

Georgia retirees who are looking at Affordable Care Act rates may face sticker shock this year. The rate increases have been astronomical, and in some cases, metro Atlanta doctors won't take the insurance, Wiley said.

"People say, 'I have this plan, but who do I go to that takes this?'" he said.

The dilemma is painfully illustrated through Shela Bryan, a 63-year-old Georgia resident who was shocked at the cost of plans under the Affordable Care Act.

"They cost a thousand, $1,200 (a month), and they have a deductible of $6,000," she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I don't know how they think anyone can afford that."

If your income is below a certain level, you can receive a subsidy to help offset the cost, Wiley said. However, many people who are eligible for the help may not know it, including as many as 95,000 people in Georgia, according to the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

People like Bryan, who has an income just over the limit, won't be able to benefit from this, however.