Health Insurance Options for Unemployed Workers

Information on Health Benefits When You Lose Your Job

Health insurance medical records concept
••• Jane_Kelly / Getty Images

One of the biggest concerns for unemployed workers, besides the loss of a paycheck, is the loss of health insurance. Health insurance is very important to have, but it can be expensive.

If you're one of those workers who have lost your health benefits along with your job, here's information on options for health insurance coverage that are available, and how you can access health insurance coverage when you have lost your job.

Company-Provided Health Insurance

If you're laid off, your employer should review the benefits you are entitled to receive when you leave employment. Ask your employer about your eligibility for continuing to stay on the company’s health plan through the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).

Eligibility for COBRA

According to COBRA, if the company you are leaving has over 20 employees, it is mandated by law to offer health insurance coverage to terminated employees for at least 18 months. COBRA applies to employees who voluntarily or involuntarily leave their jobs, or who stay at a company but lose their insurance (due to changes in their hours, for example).

The benefit of COBRA is that you can stay on your current health insurance plan, which means you can see the same doctors you have been seeing. However, the downside is that you need to pay for this coverage (plus an additional administrative fee).

Keep in mind that you have a 60-day window of time to enroll in COBRA after you leave your job, so look into this option quickly.

Who Pays for Coverage

In some cases, employers will pay for coverage for a limited time as part of a severance package. However, your employer is not required to cover your health insurance premiums. In determining COBRA premiums, the plan can include 100% of the costs paid by employees and the employer, plus an additional 2% for administrative costs.  

It is important to talk to your employer (or your company’s human resources department) before you leave, so you know what your coverage options are.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA)

Under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) federal law, unemployed workers can also find health insurance through the government’s Health Insurance Marketplace. The Marketplace provides individuals a way to purchase health insurance.

Normally, people need to apply for health insurance in the Marketplace during a particular enrollment period. However, if you leave a job outside of the normal enrollment period, you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period. This means that, once you leave your job, you have a 60-day enrollment window to shop and enroll in a health plan through the Marketplace.

Your health insurance options (and costs) will vary depending on your income and household size.

State Marketplace Options

Before deciding on an insurance plan, check with your state insurance department. Some states have people apply for insurance through the federal Marketplace, while other states have a state-based marketplace.

If coverage is available through your state, the cost of the coverage (and the ability to participate) usually depend on your income and the number of people in your family.

More Insurance Programs

If you lose your job or are otherwise unemployed, there are a few other options for finding health insurance. Below are some options you can look into:

  • Medicaid provides free or low-cost health insurance to some people based on particular factors. People who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), also commonly known as welfare, automatically qualify for Medicaid. Other people also may qualify based on their income and resources; for example, low-income people, pregnant women, the elderly, people with disabilities, and others qualify. Find out if you qualify for Medicaid.
  • The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is a free or low-cost health insurance plan for children that qualify. Find out whether your children qualify for CHIP.
  • If you are under 26 and unemployed, you may be able to get on your parents' insurance plan. Qualifying children need not be full-time students or dependents.
  • Insurance companies and college and university alumni associations may offer temporary insurance in your state.
  • Unions, professional and trade associations, and members-only warehouse clubs may also offer various forms of health insurance.

Review Options

It's important to know that you have limited time to decide on health care options, so carefully review options for maintaining coverage as soon as possible after your employment terminates.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.