Without the aid of employer-based health insurance, the transition from work life to early retirement can be fraught with challenges for both mental health and physical health, according to a Georgia State University study.
The study looked at individuals who were measured during the 1996-2010 Health and Retirement Study, which collected data from people aged 50 to 64. This range is considered the early retirement period since it is before people become eligible for Social Security or Medicare benefits. Eight symptoms of depression were evaluated along with physical health consequences such as difficulty carrying out daily tasks (bathing, getting out of bed, etc.). The presence or absence of health insurance, as well as the source of that insurance, was also measured.
The researchers found that early retirees with employment-based health insurance were associated with better health in terms of both physical and mental health challenges. This was true even when retirees with employment-based insurance were compared to those who later obtained insurance from non-group sources. The researchers theorize that this is due to the insurance coverage still being inferior to that obtained through employment. Of the subjects studied who lost their insurance, 75% never managed to acquire another form of private coverage.
Although the study is being published now, the data dates from before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed. This means that the study could not include plans that were obtained through the Health Insurance Marketplace that the ACA set up. Despite this limitation in scope, the findings of this study could be used to help glean insights into how ACA-derived insurance might impact the physical and mental health of early retirees before they become eligible for Medicare.
Although early retirement is common in the United States (47% of men and 60% of women), fewer and fewer employees are offering retirement health benefits. This has resulted in a shift that the study authors believe could lead to more negative health consequences for Americans. While physical health and quality of life abilities are negatively impacted by the lack or loss of insurance, it is mental health that sees the most immediate decline. This effect is likely because losing health insurance can be enough of a blow to trigger symptoms of depression.
“Loss of Employer-Based Health Insurance in Early Retirement Affects Mental, Physical Health,” Georgia State University web site, July 18, 2016; http://news.gsu.edu/2016/07/18/loss-employer-based-health-insurance-early-retirement-affects-mental-physical-health/, last accessed July 19, 2016.