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Ask the Expert: Insurance options for older Americans

In a recent column, you answered a question from someone who was seeking health insurance coverage from ages 62 to 65. You wrote that he could buy a policy in the Affordable Care Act market. How do AARP health plans compare to ACA plans in cost and coverage?

They're apples and oranges. The AARP plans — UnitedHealthcare Insurance Co. policies sold to AARP members — are Medicare policies, available only to people 65 and older. The ACA market policies are available to everyone under 65.

The UnitedHealthcare plans for Medicare-eligible AARP members include 1) Medicare Advantage policies, which combine coverage for hospitalization, doctors' services, and prescription drugs; 2) stand-alone Medicare prescription drug policies; and 3) supplemental policies, which cover Medicare deductibles and co-pays for people who opt to enroll in Original Medicare rather than a Medicare Advantage plan. Interactive software at medicare.gov shows which AARP plans are available in your geographic area and lets you compare their cost and breadth of coverage with those of competing Medicare policies.

Before the ACA (aka, Obamacare), many older American not yet eligible for Medicare were uninsured, because most states let insurers charge higher premiums based on an applicant's age and health — and reject those with pre-existing medical conditions. A 2012 AARP study reported that insurers rejected more than 20 percent of applicants between the ages 50 and 64 — and that those who obtained individual coverage typically paid two and a half times more for it than people in the same age group who had employer-sponsored coverage.

Since 2014, the ACA has required insurers to accept all applicants under 65 and has limited how much extra premium can be charged based on age.

The bottom line

The Affordable Care Act greatly expanded the health insurance market for older Americans who aren't yet Medicare eligible.

More information

nystateofhealth.ny.gov/

coverage4healthcare.org/insurance_under_65/

TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert/Act 2, Newsday, 6 Corporate Center Dr., Melville, NY 11747, or email act2@newsday.com. Include your name, address and phone numbers. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own consultants for your specific needs.

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