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Recent Trends in Retiree Health Benefits and The Role of COBRA Coverage

By: Paul Fronstin and Virginia Reno
Published: June 2001

Health and Income Security for an Aging Workforce
Brief No. 4 ~ June 2001

Summary: Employers are cutting back on retiree health benefits and requiring more cost sharing from former employees to pay for these benefits. Yet the proportion of retirees who say they have employment-based coverage has been stable in the 1990s. Because some of the cut-backs in retiree health benefits are applied only to newly hired workers, the impact on retirees may become evident only gradually over the next few decades as boomers retire. To what degree is COBRA coverage, whice retirees pay for themselves, becoming a substitute for employer-subsidized retiree health benefits? Questions about the role of COBRA for early retirees and disabled individuals remain -- including how they pay for it and what they do for coverage when COBRA ends.