How to get health insurance without a job

If you’re newly unemployed or furloughed, you’re not alone. But here’s a little bit of good news: If you’ve lost your job-based health insurance, you may be able to extend your plan or enroll in new coverage through the federal or state health insurance marketplaces

If you are self-employed, work part-time or just turned 26 and can’t stay on your parent’s health insurance, the following information might help you too. 

Learn more about shopping for insurance options and how to get health insurance without a job.

Key takeaways

  • Tools like the federal or state health insurance marketplaces make it easier to find insurance without employer-based coverage.
  • You might be able to continue on your job-based health insurance through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), but it could be a more expensive option.
  • There may be additional help available through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
  • You could also qualify for a premium tax credit if your income is between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty line.

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Health insurance options if you're unemployed

If you’re recently unemployed, you might lose your employer-provided health coverage. This can leave you at risk of taking on a financial burden if you need health care while you’re not insured. 

Medical bills can stack up quickly. But having a plan if you lose your coverage can help. And a 2022 survey shows that only 4 in 10 Americans have the savings set aside to pay for a $1,000 expense. 

Two health coverage options for when you’re newly unemployed are COBRA coverage and the marketplace.  

COBRA coverage

Under COBRA, you may be able to extend the term of your job-based health insurance plan. This kind of insurance is called continuation coverage. 

Keep in mind, the availability and length of COBRA coverage can vary based on your situation. 

Before you elect to go with a COBRA plan, you might want to compare the costs to other health insurance options, including plans on the federal or state marketplaces. When you choose continuation coverage, you may be responsible for all the insurance costs yourself. That could make COBRA much more expensive, especially if your employer paid for part of your monthly premium while you were employed. 

Marketplace coverage and the Affordable Care Act

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—better known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—established the federal marketplace to make health insurance accessible to all Americans. Some states and Washington, D.C., run their own marketplaces.

Health insurance marketplaces are services where people can shop and enroll in health insurance plans. Marketplaces are also sometimes called health insurance exchanges. To be eligible, you must live in the U.S., be a U.S. citizen or national, and not be incarcerated.

When you apply during open enrollment or an eligible life event—like losing coverage through work or school—you provide your income and household information. There are different plans, but they all offer certain benefits like prescriptions, pediatric services and emergency services. 

You may also qualify for a premium tax credit if your income is between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty line (FPL). And that can help to lower your monthly payment or premium.

When am I eligible to enroll in new coverage?

If you’ve recently lost coverage and are interested in enrolling in health insurance through the marketplace, it’s important to enroll within 60 days of losing your job-based coverage. In many cases, if you’ve already lost coverage, your new plan could kick in on the first of the month after you’ve applied and enrolled. 

You can also apply if you expect to lose coverage in the next 60 days. Applying early may help you ensure there’s no gap in your coverage. And if it turns out you don’t need your new federal health plan, you can cancel at any time. If your coverage is from a state marketplace, the cancellation process may be different. Be sure to check the cancellation terms of your coverage plan.

Young people may have another option: If you’re under 26 years old, your parents may be able to add you to their plan.

Additional support for low-income households

Even with health insurance, there are still costs you may need to cover out of pocket. And that can be tough to manage if you’re out of work. But there may be additional help available for low-income adults, children, pregnant women, older adults and people with disabilities through Medicaid or CHIP.

In some states, you may qualify for free health insurance coverage or Medicaid if your income is below 133% of the FPL. Other states may have additional eligibility rules.

Medicaid vs. Medicare

While they have similar names, Medicare and Medicaid are two different programs. Medicaid is a health insurance option available through the government to provide coverage to low-income adults, children, pregnant women, older adults and people with disabilities. Medicare, however, is available to anyone 65 years old and over—regardless of income.

What if I’ve been furloughed?

Depending on the status of your job-based plan, you could be eligible for a special marketplace enrollment period during your furlough—as well as a premium tax credit to help you pay for coverage.

If you still have your current coverage but are worried you won’t be able to make your monthly payments, consider contacting your insurance company to see if they can help.

What if my hours have been reduced?

If you’re enrolled in a federal marketplace plan and you’ve had your hours reduced or lost income, you may be eligible for more savings. You should update your application immediately to report any income changes. The marketplace says to update your income within 30 days.

Getting health insurance without a job in a nutshell

Figuring out health coverage may seem confusing at first if you’re in between jobs or working to start your own business. But with COBRA, federal and state health insurance marketplaces, and programs like Medicaid and CHIP, there are options for you to explore. 

Keep in mind that health coverage options are always changing—just like your individual situation may change. So it’s a good idea to keep your information up to date. 

While you work to find the health insurance that’s right for you, Capital One has resources that may help you navigate unemployment claims, bills and finding a job.

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