Healthcare reform to end ‘job lock’ for the over-50 crowd

When Carmen Oberai was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, she knew the treatment would make it tough for her to stay at her job. But she needed the health insurance provided by her employer, so she worked through the illness.

Oberai, 62, works with at-risk pregnant women for a nonprofit agency in Port Charlotte, Florida. “My treatment wasn’t as brutal as they make it sound, but you do get tired as a side-effect, and my work is very demanding,” she says. “I didn’t really know how much time I might need away from work, and I was worried that if I quit I’d lose my insurance and couldn’t get covered anywhere else with my pre-existing condition.”

The health insurance choices for workers like Oberai will change dramatically next year with final implementation of national healthcare reform. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibits insurers from turning away applicants for pre-existing conditions, and that’s expected to turn the key for workers facing “job lock” – people who need to leave their jobs but can’t afford to lose healthcare coverage.

The changes will be especially important for workers over 50, who are too young for Medicare but more likely to have health problems. And the end of job lock also will be important for another group of workers – people who have been hanging on to jobs for health insurance but would rather work on their own or start a business.

Learn more in my column today for Reuters Money.