Turning 26 can be liberating — no longer being tied to parent’s rules and restrictions. But it also means getting booted off their health insurance, which can be rather unsettling. As per the Affordable Care Act, children can stay on their parent’s health plans only until they turn 26. Once you cross that threshold, you need to find coverage on your own.
Losing health insurance is serious business. A single major illness or injury can leave you drowning in five- or six-figure medical bills. Not having insurance is simply not an option. The key is to educate yourself on the choices available and pick an option that meets both your medical and financial needs.
This comprehensive guide covers various health insurance alternatives you can consider after aging out of your parent’s policy.
When Exactly Does Parental Coverage End?
You typically lose eligibility for your parent’s health insurance on the first day of the month following your 26th birthday. For instance, if you turn 26 on May 15th, you’d no longer be covered starting June 1st.
Insurers allow this brief transition period to enable you to sign up for your own plan. Use this time wisely to evaluate different alternatives and enroll without ending up with a gap in coverage.
Some states do extend parental coverage beyond age 26:
Check your state laws to see if you qualify for such an extension. If you recently moved states, coverage eligibility depends on your parent’s address.
Health Insurance Options at Age 26
Losing parental coverage may feel overwhelming initially. But remember, you have options — good options that fit a wide range of needs and budgets. Consider these popular alternatives as you shop for your own health insurance.
Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance
Employer-sponsored plans cover nearly 49% of Americans. If your company offers insurance, signing up through them makes life simpler.
- You pay only a portion of the premiums. Your employer covers the larger share.
- Lower costs and better coverage than individual private plans.
- Pre-tax deductions for premiums via payroll.
- Limited flexibility to change plans or insurance providers.
- Possible gaps in coverage between jobs.
If your employer doesn’t offer health benefits, you may be able to get added to your spouse’s insurance plan. This counts as qualifying health coverage.
Individual and Family Plans
Purchasing a private health insurance plan through state or federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplaces is another avenue to explore.
Healthcare.gov guides you through the process for assessing options, eligibility for subsidies, enrollment steps and more. Coverage begins on the first day of the following month after you pick a plan.
Over 11.5 million Americans currently rely on ACA plans for health insurance. Marketplaces offer several standard plan categories – Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum. Premiums, out-of-pocket costs and coverage levels vary across these “metal tiers”.
- Get coverage regardless of any pre-existing conditions.
- Tax credits and cost-sharing reductions lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs if you qualify.
- Can include dental insurance.
- Available to anyone without access to other health insurance options.
- No employer sharing costs. You pay full premiums.
- Premiums and deductibles usually higher than employer plans.
- Requires careful evaluation of different plan options to pick the right one.
Use the healthcare.gov calculator to determine if you’re eligible for lower costs. If your income is below ~$54,360 (single) or $111,000 (family of four), you qualify for premium tax credits.
Getting fired or quitting a job doesn’t have to lead to losing health benefits right away. COBRA enables you to continue your existing coverage for 18-36 months in such cases.
- You pay the full plan premiums yourself.
- Covers you and family members on the same plan.
- Must apply within 60 days of job termination.
COBRA buys you time to figure out next steps. It tends to be expensive though. Weigh premium costs against alternatives like ACA marketplace plans.
Medicaid and CHIP
Medicaid provides free or low-cost health coverage to over 70 million Americans based on income eligibility. The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) covers kids in families who earn too much for Medicaid but can’t afford private health insurance.
Each state has its own rules around eligibility, covered benefits and application processes. Generally, Medicaid targets low-income adults, families, seniors, people with disabilities and pregnant women.
Healthcare.gov lets you check if you qualify and guides you through enrollment steps. You can apply any time of year.
- Little to no premium costs.
- Covers essential health benefits – doctor visits, hospitalization, prescriptions, pregnancy care, mental healthcare and more.
- Provides long-term care services often excluded from other plans.
- Strict eligibility criteria based on income level.
- Coverage may not apply across state lines.
Key Factors to Consider
Health insurance can get complicated quickly. When comparing plans side-by-side, focus on these key aspects:
- What benefits are covered? What’s excluded? Hospitalization, lab tests and emergency services are usually covered. Other things like dental, vision, mental health may not be.
- Is your current doctor/medications in-network? Using out-of-network providers costs you more.
- What’s the deductible and max out-of-pocket limit? The lower these amounts, the less you pay before insurance kicks in.
- How much are the monthly premiums? Premium = recurring amount you pay for coverage.
- What cost-sharing reductions or subsidies are available? Lowers your overall costs.
- What’s covered before/after meeting the deductible? Impacts your total spending.
- Which medical facilities/doctors can you visit? Narrower networks limit choices but cost less.
- Does the plan cover out-of-state or worldwide emergency care? Crucial if you travel frequently.
Balancing costs, coverage and convenience is key to picking the right plan for your specific situation. Don’t go by name alone when comparing policies. Dig into the nitty gritty details that impact your care experience.
Other Health-Related Risks to Insure Against
Having a solid health insurance plan addresses only one piece of the big financial planning picture. As you step into adulthood, insure yourself against other risks that can derail your finances with little warning:
Disability insurance replaces income if injury or illness prevents you from working. It covers living expenses and medical bills unpaid time off would otherwise leave you struggling to fund.
Over 1 in 4 adults entering the workforce today will become disabled before retiring. Enrolling while young locks in lower premiums.
Life insurance provides your loved ones money to cover debts, funeral costs and daily expenses in your absence. Especially important once you have people depending on your income or support.
Renter’s insurance / home insurance pays to repair or replace belongings and cover temporary accommodation costs if disaster strikes your home. Extremely useful coverage that’s often overlooked.
Building an all-round safety net prepares you for life’s curveballs. Having insurance gives you financial security and peace of mind.
Plan Ahead to Avoid Gaps
Losing health coverage under your parents’ plan may catch you off-guard if you’re not prepared. Avoid ending up in a perilous situation with no backup option.
- Start researching early: Identify all possible alternatives months before you turn 26. Every option has pros and cons to weigh.
- Compare plans in detail: Focus on premiums, deductibles, doctor networks, prescription drug coverage and included benefits when deciding.
- Meet enrollment deadlines: Apply early and complete paperwork on time to prevent any gap between policies.
- Consider help from a broker: An independent broker simplifies things by giving unbiased advice and handling plan sign-ups.
- Look into special enrollment: You may qualify to enroll outside standard open enrollment periods upon turning 26.
Losing parental coverage is a rite of passage for young adults. While it may feel intimidating, you have more options than you think – good options that fit your medical needs and budget limitations. Do your homework, seek unbiased guidance, choose wisely and get covered without delay.