You’ve worked hard, saved prodigiously, invested wisely, and you’re retiring early. Or you’ve worked hard, but tough times are forcing early retirements at your company. It’s time to consider your insurance options, which are likely to be limited and expensive.

Less than a fourth of companies extend health coverage to retired employees; it’s too expensive. The federal COBRA law requires companies to extend coverage for at least 18 months, and under certain circumstances up to 36 months. But most COBRA fees are the maximum allowed by law: 102 percent of the actual premium. If you can afford this option, make sure you meet deadlines, says Stephanie Lewis, assistant research professor for Georgetown University’s Institute for Health Care Research and Policy.

Other options? If your spouse works, you could transfer onto his or her employer’s plan; find out when the policy allows open enrollment so you don’t go without. You could buy individual coverage, which varies from state to state, but it can be pricey and offers limited coverage, especially if you have a preexisting condition. Or you might qualify for one of the high-risk pools offered in 30 states. Check with your state’s department of insurance or study the Institute’s state-by-state rundowns.

No matter what you opt for, don’t “go bare” — without any insurance. One major accident or illness could send you from independent living to the welfare rolls.

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