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Health Insurance at Age 26: Leaving Your Parent's Plan

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Most young adults lose coverage from their parent's health insurance plans soon after they turn 26. This cutoff is because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which only requires health insurance companies to cover a dependent on a parent’s plan until they turn 26.

When you lose coverage as a 26-year-old depends on the type of insurance plan, but it can be the end of your birthday month or the end of the calendar year.

Losing health insurance at 26

In most states, turning 26 means you're no longer able to stay on a parent's health insurance plan.

This health insurance rule was established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also called "Obamacare." Before this, insurance companies routinely dropped young adults from their parent's policies after they reached a certain age or stopped attending college. As a result, many young adults lost their insurance earlier.

Before the ACA, more than 30% of young Americans didn't have health insurance. That made young people the group with the lowest rate of health insurance coverage in the country.

With this rule, young adults age 26 and under can stay on their parent's health insurance plan even if they:

  • Have started or finished school
  • Are no longer a dependent
  • Are married

How long can you stay on your parent's insurance after you turn 26?

The timeline for when coverage ends depends on the type of coverage.

  • If you are covered under your parent's employer policy, you have until the end of the month when you turn 26 to choose a new health insurance plan.

  • If you have coverage under your parent’s ACA marketplace plan, you have until the end of the calendar year, Dec. 31, before your coverage ends — even if you turn 26 midyear.

States that allow extended coverage after age 26

Eight states — Florida, Illinois, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Wisconsin — let you stay on your parent's health insurance plans well past the age of 26.

You can stay on your parent's health insurance indefinitely if you have a qualifying disability in the following states.

  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota

The requirements for staying on a parent’s health insurance policy vary depending on the state. In Pennsylvania, for example, you can stay on your parent’s health insurance policy until 29 if you meet certain conditions.

The first requirement is the insurance plan must be group coverage through a parent's Pennsylvania-based employer. You cannot be married and cannot have any dependents. You also have to be either a state resident or enrolled as a full-time student in college.

Florida

Florida Age limit: 30

Eligibility requirements

  • State resident or student
  • Not eligible for another group insurance plan
  • Unmarried
  • No children

Illinois

Illinois Age limit: 30

Eligibility requirements

  • State resident
  • Veteran
  • Unmarried

Nebraska

Nebraska Age limit: 30

Eligibility requirements

  • State resident or full-time student
  • Unmarried
  • Must not have other health insurance

New Jersey

New Jersey Age limit: 31

Eligibility requirements

  • State resident or full-time student
  • Unmarried
  • No children
  • Must not have other health insurance

New York

New York Age limit: 29

Eligibility requirements

  • Live or work in NY
  • Unmarried
  • Not eligible for insurance through work

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Age limit: 29

Eligibility requirements

  • State resident or a full-time student
  • Insurance through a parent's Pennsylvania-based employer
  • Unmarried
  • No dependent children
  • Doesn't have other health insurance

South Dakota

South Dakota Age limit: 29

Eligibility requirements

  • Full-time student

Wisconsin

Wisconsin Age limit: 27

Eligibility requirements

  • Unmarried
  • Not eligible for other insurance through a job, or coverage through a job would be more expensive than a parent's plan

How does a special enrollment period work?

When you age off your parent's health insurance plan, you're automatically allowed to enroll in a marketplace plan outside of the regular enrollment periods. This period is known as a special enrollment period (SEP).

The special enrollment period for signing up for health insurance starts 60 days before your coverage ends and lasts 60 days after coverage ends, totaling 120 days.

If you are going to lose coverage, you should find another source of health insurance that will start on the same day your old policy ends.

In other words, if you enroll in a health care plan on Jan. 3, coverage does not usually start on Jan. 4. That means it's important to enroll in a plan early so that coverage starts when you need it to.

Best health insurance options when you turn 26

In 2024, a Silver health insurance plan costs an average of $468 a month for a 26-year-old paying full price. Young adults have access to the cheapest rates because the cost of health insurance increases with age.

There are several ways to get insurance if you are aging off of your parent's insurance plan. But before choosing an insurance plan as a young adult, you need to decide what you need in a health plan and how much you can afford.

If you are healthy, you may not need a more expensive health plan with greater benefits that is designed for someone with ongoing illnesses. But if you are a young adult with an ongoing illness, you may need a plan with strong coverage.

There are other things to consider. A young adult who is planning to start a family will have different coverage needs than a young, single adult starting their first job and living alone.

Employer plans: Best for those who can get coverage through a job

Employer-based coverage should be one of the first places to look for coverage if you are employed and aging off your parent's insurance plan. This is how most people in the country get their health insurance.

Employer plans are usually cheap because the employer pays for most of the cost of insurance. But employer plans can come with downsides. For example, your workplace may only offer one plan. Alternatively, you may have access to plans that don't let you see your favorite doctor or that force you to travel long distances for medical care.

COBRA: Expensive but good for a coverage gap

If you're aging off of your parent's insurance, you can stay on the same plan through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).

Insurance through COBRA is usually very expensive because you have to pay for the full cost of your insurance plan. That's why COBRA should only be used to bridge short coverage gaps until you can find a permanent health care plan.

For example, if you've already met the plan's yearly deductible, you may want to use COBRA to stay on the same plan until the end of the policy year.

Short-term plans: Cheap and offer some coverage during a gap

You can also turn to short-term policies to bridge coverage gaps. This can be useful in situations when you're waiting for another insurance policy to begin. It is important to note that short-term plans do not have to cover preexisting conditions. They also don't have to offer the same level of coverage as regular health insurance policies.

Short-term plans are typically used for protection against catastrophic events until longer-term insurance takes effect or can be found.

Marketplace plans: Best long-term option for those without an employer plan

You should consider a plan from the ACA marketplace if you are self-employed, you are a gig worker or you don't have coverage through a job. You may qualify for premium tax credits, also known as marketplace subsidies, if you have a low income.

ACA marketplace plans are broken into coverage tiers.

  • Silver plans are often referred to as middle-of-the-road policies. These plans have rates and deductibles that are cheaper than the Gold and Platinum plans, but more expensive than Catastrophic or Bronze tiers. This makes Silver plans a great option for healthy people and their dependents who mostly need routine care such as regular doctor visits, X-rays and lab work.
  • Gold and Platinum plans have the most expensive monthly costs, but they also have the lowest deductibles, which can limit what you pay out of pocket for medical services. These insurance plans are a good option if you have an ongoing illness. However, the plans are usually not a good choice if you're a healthy 20-something who doesn't need a lot of health care services.
  • Catastrophic and Bronze health plans are often the cheapest insurance plans on the marketplace. They could be a good choice if you do not typically have high-cost health needs. But plans have the highest deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. That makes them a poor choice if you need ongoing care. Also, Catastrophic plans are not eligible for premium tax credits.

ACA subsidies

You may be eligible for ACA subsidies if you make between $14,580 and $58,320 a year ($30,000 and $120,000 for a family of four). The size of the discount is based on a sliding scale — the lower the income, the greater the health insurance tax credit.

In 2021, expanded subsidies were extended to some people making more than four times the federal poverty level, and they will be available through 2025. Please note that you will not qualify for tax credits if you turn down an employer-based plan or if you're listed as a dependent on another person’s income taxes.

Student health plans: Private insurance plans that are good for students

You can buy a student health plan if you're a college student between the ages of 17 and 29. Some companies let you pay for the entire year up front. Unlike a university-based plan, these plans travel with you wherever you study in the United States.

If you start at one university and then transfer to another university, the coverage comes with you.

College and university plans: Good for on-campus health care

Some colleges offer a school health insurance plan for full-time students. This could be a good health insurance option for older students who can’t continue their parent's coverage. It’s also useful for any student who is attending school out of state.

Let’s say, for example, that a student from Texas, who is covered under a parent’s health maintenance organization (HMO) in Texas, is attending college in Ohio. In that case, they would have to travel back to Ohio to visit the doctor. It would make sense for the student to have their own health insurance plan in Ohio through a college or university.

One of the advantages of choosing a school policy is the monthly cost can be grouped with your tuition, room and board. That makes it possible to use student loans to pay for your health insurance costs.

School-sponsored health care may not cover services outside of the university. If you need to access services away from the school, for example, the policy may not cover the costs.

Moreover, some university or college health plans do not follow ACA rules, meaning they may not cover preexisting conditions or they may limit how much they'll pay for certain services. It's important to read the health plan's terms to learn about important coverage limits.

Medicaid coverage: Best for those who have a low income

Medicaid offers free or cheap health insurance for people who have a low income.

Medicaid is a good option if you're unemployed or if your job does not offer health insurance. One of the benefits of applying for an ACA marketplace plan is that the system automatically determines whether you qualify for Medicaid.

Income eligibility is different in each state. In the states that have expanded Medicaid eligibility, you can qualify for Medicaid if you make less than $20,120 ($41,400 for a family of four).

Ten states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming — have not expanded their Medicaid programs. In those states, it's harder to qualify for Medicaid.


Frequently asked questions

Can you stay on your parent's insurance after age 26?

In most states, coverage ends at the end of the month when you turn 26 (if you have health insurance through your work) or at the end of the calendar year in which you turn 26 (if you have an ACA marketplace plan).

You can usually keep your coverage through COBRA, but that option is very expensive. You'll probably get the best deal buying insurance through your job or through the ACA marketplace.

How much does health insurance cost for a 26-year-old?

A Silver health insurance plan through the marketplace costs an average of $468 a month for a 26-year-old. You may qualify for ACA subsidies if you earn between $14,580 and $58,320 a year ($30,000 and $120,000 for a family of four).

When does health insurance end for 26-year-olds?

If you are covered under a parent’s marketplace plan, you can stay on your parent’s plan until the end of the calendar year, Dec. 31, even if you turn 26 midyear. If you are covered under your parent's employer plan, you usually have until the end of the month when you turn 26 before coverage ends.

In eight states — Florida, Illinois, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Wisconsin — you can stay on your parent's health insurance plans past the age of 26.

How does a 26-year-old get health insurance?

A 26-year-old has several options for getting health care, including health insurance through their employer or through a state health care marketplace. A 26-year-old with a low income may qualify for Medicaid.

A 26-year-old student who attends a college or university may also have the option of buying coverage through a college or university plan.

Sources

Information regarding health insurance age eligibility requirements came from HealthCare.gov. State-level age restriction data came from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Health insurance marketplace subsidy figures came from KFF.

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.