If you've had health insurance through an employer, you could be wondering how to get health insurance without a job if you lose yours. Luckily, there are multiple options to consider, whether you've just lost your job or haven't been employed for a while.
Below are 5 ways you might be able to get health insurance. They could help you replace coverage you had through an employer, find coverage for the first time, or insure your child. Review the benefits and qualifications of each one, and then you could be on your way to choosing the best health insurance for you.
How to get health insurance without a job
1. Consider COBRA
If you've recently lost your job, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) might be the quickest and easiest way to get health insurance without a job, especially if you liked your employer's health plan. COBRA typically lets you maintain employer-sponsored health insurance for up to 18 months after your job ended. One caveat: COBRA is mandated only if there are at least 20 employees at your former company.
A big downside? COBRA coverage could cost a lot. That's because you're responsible for paying the full premium—including the portion your past employer might have been kicking in. But COBRA could be a good option if you need access to your current providers or have ongoing medical needs.
Losing your health insurance because of a job loss is a common way to qualify for COBRA. Another qualifying event: a reduction in work hours.
If you are eligible for COBRA, your employer will mail you a COBRA Election Notice that notifies you of your rights to elect COBRA continuation coverage. Then you have 60 days from the date of the COBRA notice or loss of coverage date (whichever is later) to elect continuation coverage.
2. See if you're eligible to join a family member's plan
More than half of US workers have employer-sponsored health insurance.1 If your partner or family member is one of them, you might be able to join their plan. The cost depends on the employer's policies, premium contributions, and any subsidies.
To see if you qualify for a loved one's employer-sponsored health insurance, have that person contact their company's human resources department. You might be able to join the plan during its annual enrollment period—or sooner if you've lost your job or had another qualifying event, such as getting married to that employee. If you're under 26 years old, a parent's employer-sponsored plan is likely to cover you.
3. Explore the ACA health insurance marketplace
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) set up a health insurance marketplace (aka the exchange) where you may review, compare, and buy health insurance plans for yourself and your family. The marketplace offers a range of options at different costs, depending on factors such as coverage, income, family size, and location. Subsidies and tax credits could lower your premiums if you qualify.
To take advantage of the ACA health insurance marketplace, you must live in the US and be a US citizen or legal resident. The open enrollment period for ACA plans is November 1 through January 15 each year, though it could run longer in your state. That's the only time of year you may enroll in a health insurance plan through the exchange—with a few exceptions.
A qualifying event, such as getting married or divorced, having a child, or losing health insurance could allow you to get coverage outside of open enrollment dates. You can explore your options and determine your eligibility at HealthCare.gov.
4. Look into income-based government programs
Medicaid is a government-funded program and could be how to get health insurance without a job. Each state has its own eligibility requirements, but generally, people with limited financial resources, including parents, pregnant people, and people with disabilities, might qualify.
There's also the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), affordable health care coverage for uninsured children under age 19. This other government-funded initiative is designed for families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but can't afford private insurance. As with Medicaid, states determine eligibility by income level. In some states you can't make more than 170% of the federal poverty level, while others allow CHIP enrollees to have incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level. Some states' CHIPs even cover pregnant women.
Medicaid and CHIP coverage costs vary depending on your income level and state, but in general, Medicaid and CHIP provide affordable health insurance. Prescription medications, preventive care, and hospital visits are typically covered under Medicaid, and the same, plus dental care and immunizations, are typically covered by CHIP.
To learn more about either of these programs, visit Medicaid.gov or your state's Medicaid or CHIP website. You can also contact your state's Department of Health and Human Services for info. Enrollment periods and application processes differ by state, so be sure you're familiar with the specific requirements in your area.
5. Review private insurance options
Anyone could visit a health insurer's website or call an agent to get info about enrolling in one of their plans, though the above options are likely to cost less. These carriers have standard open enrollment periods, but as with the other choices, you may enroll if you've had a qualifying life event.