Study of One Company Finds Most Retirees Who Lose Health Insurance Either Have Medicare or Obtain Other Coverage

From 1996 to 1998, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Health Related Professions (now called the School of Health Professions) examined how retirees of John Morrell and Company, a meatpacking firm, were affected by the January 1995 cancellation of their health insurance benefits.

With the rapid escalation of health care costs in recent years, many companies have canceled health insurance benefits for their retired employees, but little is known about how this loss of coverage affects retirees and their dependents.

Key Findings

  • About two thirds (62%) of retirees and their dependents were already enrolled in Medicare when their retiree health benefits were canceled.

  • Of those left without any insurance coverage, more than half were able to obtain replacement coverage within a few weeks or months, while another 40 percent lacked coverage for a year or more.

  • Among those who obtained health insurance coverage, more than three quarters (79 percent) got it through another employer, their spouse's employer, or by purchasing an individual or family health insurance policy.

  • About one percent turned to veterans' benefits or Medicaid.

  • Only about five percent of the total sample said they had experienced a serious medical problem but did not see a doctor due to the cost, about 10 percent did not see a doctor for minor problems or a routine checkup, and 12 percent did not fill a needed prescription.