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Best Cheap Health Insurance for Young Adults

Blue Cross Blue Shield has the best health insurance for young adults because it's easy to find doctors who accept the coverage.


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Kaiser Permanente offers the cheapest health insurance for young adults. And Oscar has the best mobile app, if you prefer to handle your health insurance digitally. You can stay on your parents' health insurance plan until you are 26. But if you need to get your own coverage before then, these companies are a good place to start.

Best and cheapest health insurance for young adults

Blue Cross Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente and Oscar are the best health insurance companies for young adults.

The needs of young adults vary, so the best health insurance for you will depend on your unique situation.

A Bronze plan costs an average of $344 per month for a 21-year-old. Kaiser Permanente and Oscar have cheaper monthly health insurance premiums. Blue Cross Blue Shield's average rate is slightly higher than the national average for a 21-year-old.

Health insurance company
Monthly cost*
Kaiser Permanente logo
Kaiser Permanente$239
Oscar logo
Oscar$288
Cigna logo
Cigna$295
Ambetter logo
Ambetter$306
UnitedHealthcare logo
UnitedHealthcare$331
Show All Rows

*Average monthly cost for a 21-year-old with a Bronze plan.

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We started our analysis by reviewing average rates for a 21-year-old. Because young adults typically have fewer health care needs than older adults, a Bronze plan is a good choice since it's cheaper than higher plan tiers. Each company's provider network was also taken into consideration because young adults may be traveling for school and work. Finally, the mobile tools for each carrier were reviewed to see how easy it was to access plan information digitally.

Blue Cross Blue Shield: Best overall

Blue Cross Blue Shield has the best health insurance for young adults. The company makes it easy to find covered medical care because of its large provider network. You can get it in most places, as new policies are available in 47 states. Blue Cross Blue Shield's average monthly rate for a 21-year-old with a Bronze plan is slightly higher than the national average, however. It may not be the right choice if you're on a tight budget.

Blue Cross Blue Shield

  • Editor's rating:

  • Average cost: $348/month
  • Available in 47 states

More than 90% of the doctors and hospitals in the United States accept Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance. This means that, no matter where you are, there's probably a medical office near you that accepts Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance. Young people often travel for school, new jobs or trips with friends. A large health insurance provider network means you won't have to pay the higher costs for going to an out-of-network doctor.

Blue Cross Blue Shield can also be a good choice if you're a college student. Many Blue Cross Blue Shield companies work with universities to provide student health insurance. For example, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield has a program called Student Advantage. The program focuses on flexibility since students' schedules can be hectic. Student Advantage policies come with a 24/7 nurse line, virtual medical appointments and virtual mental health visits.

Blue Cross Blue Shield is made up of independently owned companies. Each company has different programs and plans, so the options available in your area might be different. Blue Cross Blue Shield has subsidiaries nationwide, but you can't buy a new marketplace policy in Mississippi, Nebraska or South Dakota.


Kaiser Permanente: Cheapest health insurance

Kaiser Permanente has the best health insurance for young adults on a budget. The company's average monthly rate is $105 cheaper than the national average for a 21-year-old with a Bronze plan. Kaiser Permanente also has high customer satisfaction ratings, which can be helpful for young adults who aren't used to navigating health insurance yet. Unfortunately, though, Kaiser Permanente is only available in eight states and Washington, D.C.

Kaiser Permanente

  • Editor's rating:

  • Average cost: $239/month
  • Available in 8 states

Along with cheap health insurance rates, Kaiser Permanente also has helpful health information for young adults on its website. Topics include mental health, acne, healthy eating and insomnia. Kaiser Permanente even has resources to help you learn what annual appointments and tests you might need so you can learn how to manage your health.

Kaiser Permanente operates its own hospitals and medical offices. This can make the billing process easier since Kaiser Permanente's health insurance plans sync directly with the medical offices. Unfortunately, it also means that most of Kaiser Permanente's plans have no coverage for out-of-network medical care except in emergencies. If you go to a doctor's office that isn't in Kaiser Permanente's network, you'll have to pay for the full cost of your care.

Kaiser Permanente policies are only available on the West Coast and in other scattered parts of the country.

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Maryland
  • Oregon
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Washington, D.C.

Oscar: Best health insurance app

Oscar has the best mobile health insurance app. Young adults who prefer to handle their finances digitally might enjoy the company's mobile tools. The app is highly rated on the App Store and in Google Play and is one of the most robust apps in the industry. Oscar was founded in 2012, so it's fairly new among health insurance companies. If you're more comfortable with a larger health insurance company, Oscar might not be the best fit.

Oscar

  • Editor's rating:

  • Average cost: $288/month
  • Available in 20 states

Oscar's mobile app allows you to handle a lot of your health needs from your phone. For busy young adults, this could be an appealing feature. The app's search tool lets you find care based on location, doctor specialty and more. And virtual visits are free with most of Oscar's plans. The app also lets you review your plan benefits, look at lab results and pay bills.

Oscar's average monthly rate is also fairly low for a 21-year-old with a Bronze plan, so it could be a good option if you need cheap health insurance but you're not in Kaiser Permanente's service area. Oscar even has prescription drugs available for 88 common health conditions that only cost $3 per prescription, which can help keep the cost of your medications down.


Average cost of health insurance for young adults

A Bronze-level health insurance plan costs $344 per month for a 21-year-old, on average.

Rates vary based on the level of coverage you choose. Catastrophic and Bronze plans are cheaper, but they also pay less for your medical care. That means you'll pay more if you need to see the doctor. Higher-tier plans like Gold and Platinum cost more each month but save you money when you go to the doctor.

Average cost of health insurance for young adults by plan tier

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If you're generally healthy and don't need much medical care, a Catastrophic or Bronze plan is a good choice. If you have health issues or expect to have a large medical bill in the near future, it might make more sense to get a Gold or Platinum plan.

Cost of health insurance for young adults by plan tier

Plan tier
Monthly rate*
Catastrophic$260
Bronze$344
Silver$438
Gold$473
Platinum$577

*Rates for a 21-year-old.

Because young adults tend to be relatively healthy, costs don't vary much by age. Rates do increase as you get older, but typically you won't see much of an increase in your young adult years.

Cost of health insurance for young adults by age

Age
Monthly rate*
18$314
19$324
20$334
21$344
22$344
Show All Rows

*Rates for a Bronze plan.


Free health insurance for young adults

Some of the best health insurance for young adults is free or low cost. If you have access to health insurance through your job, your employer will likely pay for part of your premium. And if you have a low income household, you might qualify for Medicaid, which is usually free.

Employer-sponsored health care

One of the cheapest insurance options for young adults is getting coverage through an employer's health plan. This is called group health insurance. Employers sometimes cover the full cost of health insurance, although this is not as common as it used to be since health care costs are rising.

Employers usually require their employees to pay some of their monthly health insurance costs. However, employer-sponsored plans are often a cheap option because most employers pay a large portion of the monthly premium.

If you select employer coverage, your portion of the premium is usually taken out of your paycheck. Employer-sponsored health care can also provide coverage for dependents, like a spouse or children. Your employer might not cover the cost to add dependents, though, which means you might pay their full monthly rate yourself.

Medicaid

Medicaid is another free or low-cost health insurance option, if you qualify. Eligibility for Medicaid usually depends on your income.

There are 10 states that haven't expanded Medicaid. In these states, there's usually a lower income limit to qualify, and you may have to meet other requirements, like having a disability or medical condition.

If you live in one of the 40 states that have expanded Medicaid, you can enroll if your household income is at or below a certain level. If you're single, you can't make more than $20,120 per year. Usually the income limit is 138% of the federal poverty level, although Alaska and Hawaii have higher levels. In these states, you can make more and still qualify.

Medicaid is usually free, but each state has different rules. Even if there's no monthly fee, you might have a copay to visit a doctor. Usually, though, Medicaid pays for your health care without any cost to you.


Alternative young adult health insurance

If you do not have coverage through an employer and you don't qualify for Medicaid, you still have options for health insurance. Buying a marketplace plan, a student health plan or a short-term health insurance policy could be helpful. And if you're under 26, you may be able to stay on your parents' health insurance.

Health insurance marketplace plans

If you need to buy a health insurance policy, you can get coverage from the federal marketplace or your state marketplace website. Marketplace plans are sometimes called Affordable Care Act (ACA) policies or "Obamacare" policies.

Bronze plans are a good choice for healthy young adults and those who are on tight budgets. Silver plans cost more but also give you more coverage. They could be better suited for young couples or young adults with children. If you can afford to pay more per month, a Gold or Platinum policy could be a good choice. With these plans, you'll pay the lowest amount for medical care.

There are five different plan levels, called tiers: Catastrophic, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. The best plan tier will depend on your income and how healthy you are. The lower your tier, the less you'll pay monthly, but the more you'll pay when you go to the doctor.

If you buy a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum health insurance plan, you might qualify for a tax credit that lowers your monthly rate.

Tax credits, also called premium subsidies, reduce the monthly cost of your health insurance policy. The amount of subsidy that you get depends on how many people are in your household and how much money you make.

Even if you don't qualify for premium subsidies, the marketplace can help you compare different health insurance companies and plans. You can buy private health insurance directly from an insurance company, but using a marketplace or comparison website makes it easier to see all your choices at once.

Usually, you can only buy marketplace policies between Nov. 1 and Jan. 15. This time period is called the open enrollment period. You might be able to buy a policy outside of this time frame if you qualify for a special enrollment period. If you're turning 26 and falling off of your parents' plan, you'll qualify for special enrollment.

Student health insurance coverage

If you're in college, buying a student health insurance plan could be a good option. Typically, your college or school would offer you a health insurance plan when you enroll. You might consider this option if you are currently on your parents' plan and there aren't any in-network doctors near your school.

For example, if you live in Michigan but you are going to college in Florida, your parents' health insurance plan might not cover doctors near where you live in Florida. Make sure to talk to your school about what is covered by your student health plan. Not all student health plans are required to cover the essential health benefits mandated by the ACA. Knowing what your policy does and doesn't cover could help you avoid surprise bills.

Short-term health insurance for young adults

Another option is short-term health insurance. These plans do not provide the same level of benefits as marketplace insurance or private insurance policies. However, short-term health insurance can provide affordable health insurance for young adults with budget restrictions and fewer health care needs.

You shouldn't buy a short-term plan if you have medical conditions that require frequent or complex health care. And unlike traditional health insurance policies, short-term health insurance companies can deny you coverage if you have preexisting health conditions like diabetes or asthma.

Staying on a family health insurance plan

Young adults under the age of 26 have the option to stay on a parent’s health insurance policy. This is usually one of the cheapest health insurance options for young adults. If your parents have an ACA marketplace plan, you can compare the price to stay on the family health insurance to the price to buy your own policy to see which option is cheaper.

You can stay on your parents' plan even if you:

  • Are married
  • Are not living with your parents
  • Are going to school
  • Are financially independent from your parents
  • Have access to an employer-sponsored plan
  • Have a child

In some states, you may be able to stay on your parents' plan even after you turn 26, if you meet other requirements.


Frequently asked questions

What's the best health insurance for young adults under 26?

Blue Cross Blue Shield offers the best health insurance for young adults under 26 because its large provider network makes it easy to get medical care no matter where you are. Kaiser Permanente is a good option for cheap rates, and Oscar has the best health insurance app.

What is the most affordable health insurance for young adults?

If you can stay on your parents' health insurance, that's usually the cheapest health insurance for young adults. This is especially true if your parent has insurance through their job. If you need to buy your own policy, Kaiser Permanente has the cheapest health insurance rate for a 21-year-old with a Bronze plan, at $239 per month. You may find a cheaper company, though, based on your age, location and circumstances.

Should you get health insurance in your 20s?

Yes, you should have health insurance in your 20s. Health insurance is important to your physical and financial health. In your 20s, you might get your coverage from your parents' plan, from a plan of your own or from Medicaid. No matter where your coverage comes from, health insurance helps you afford medical care.


Methodology and sources

We used data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) public use files (PUFs) and from state-run marketplace sites to calculate average health insurance costs for 21-year-olds with a Bronze plan. Rates for 18-year-olds through 25-year-olds were calculated using the age curve variations from CMS. Plans and providers for which county-level data was included in the CMS Crosswalk file were used in our analysis; those excluded from this data set may not appear.

Other sources for this article include Blue Cross Blue Shield, HealthCare.gov, Kaiser Permanente, Oscar and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author's opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.