Monica Yant Kinney's column about health coverage for seniors who retire before they are eligible for Medicare contains a common but critically important mistake ("Insurance plan no longer sweet," Wednesday). She describes the 59-year-old wife of a recently retired machinist who has myeloma (cancer of the bone marrow) and needs a hip replacement but has been unable to find an insurance plan that will accept her. Kinney states that the woman's best bet is to become so sick that she qualifies for Social Security disability and Medicaid.

Unfortunately, no matter how sick this woman becomes, the couples' pension and savings will almost certainly make her ineligible for Medicaid. In addition, although she may well qualify for Social Security disability, federal regulations require her to wait two more years before she would become eligible for Medicare. These arcane rules mean that many retirees who have worked and paid insurance premiums for decades are essentially uninsurable, no matter how sick they get. Given that the cost of cancer chemotherapy and surgery can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars, this means that many of our retirees are left with no options at all.

Cheryl Bettigole, M.D.