The list of employers and unions that are participating in the federal government's Early Retiree Reinsurance Program has grown to nearly 3,600, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday.
The fund provides money for employers to help early retirees obtain healthcare coverage between the ages of 55 and 65 when they become eligible to receive Medicare.
The $5 billion program, made possible by the Affordable Care Act, is intended as a bridge to Jan. 1, 2014, when health insurance exchanges designed to provide early retirees with coverage are mandated to go into effect.
Up to now, many retirees who exhausted their COBRA coverage, left employers without healthcare coverage, or who had pre-existing conditions that made health insurance unaffordable, were out of luck.
"By helping employers and unions continue to offer coverage for early retirees, we're helping them compete—while providing a measure of certainty and security for their former workers at a time when it could not be more important," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a statement. "The Early Retiree Reinsurance Program seeks to shore up the financial foothold for employers and unions who want to provide coverage to their retirees."