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How to Get Health Insurance Without a Job

There’s nothing fun about losing your job. On top of worrying about how you’ll pay your bills, now you’re wondering, What happens to my health insurance?

If you’re trying to figure out how to get health insurance without a job, we’ve got good news! You can still get health insurance while you’re unemployed. We’ll walk you through your options.

Health Care for the Unemployed

We won’t sugarcoat it—being without health insurance is never a good feeling. Even with a job, navigating health insurance can be like paddling upstream in a canoe with a hole in it. While it’s raining. Not easy. If you need help figuring out how health insurance works (don’t we all?), check out this easy-to-understand guide.

Okay—if you’ve lost your job, you won’t be able to get group health insurance through your employer anymore. But you do have these seven options:

  1. Short-Term Health Insurance
  2. COBRA
  3. Marketplace Health Insurance
  4. Medicaid and/or CHIP
  5. Medicare
  6. Private Individual Plan
  7. Spouse’s or Parents’ Health Insurance Plan

1. Short-Term Health Insurance

Short-term health insurance (also called temporary or limited-term health insurance) usually lasts 30 to 90 days and is designed to cover health emergencies and lapses in coverage for a short period.

For instance, let’s say you’ve added your name to the Great Resignation and aren’t starting a new job for a few months. Or maybe you retired early and need coverage until you’re old enough to qualify for Medicare. Short-term health insurance might be your best bet.

Do you have the right health insurance coverage? Connect with a Trusted pro today.

Here are a couple things to know about short-term health insurance policies:

  • They won’t cover everything: These policies won’t give you the same coverage as a traditional medical insurance policy. They will cover some inpatient/outpatient procedures, emergency room visits and intensive care costs. But they won’t cover stuff like maternity care, mental health services, preventative care or preexisting conditions.
  • They can be more expensive: Short-term policy deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses tend to be higher than traditional plans. The silver lining is that premiums are usually affordable and coverage can potentially start within 24 hours.

2. Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA)

Yeah, that’s a mouthful. No wonder we just call it COBRA. With COBRA insurance, you can extend your employer-based coverage for a limited period of time after you’ve left your job. Big sigh of relief, right?

But before you fully exhale, take a look at the pros and cons :

COBRA Pro: Under federal law, employers must allow employees to keep their health care plan for 18 months after they’ve left their job. (This can sometimes stretch to 36 months if you qualify.)1

COBRA Con: You’ll pay the full cost of your health insurance premium yourself. Your employer won’t be pitching in anymore. So it’ll be more expensive. Talk to your employer when you leave to find out what your new COBRA premium will be.

And if those high COBRA premiums are squeezing your budget too tight, you can always check out the government’s health insurance marketplace . . .

3. Marketplace Health Insurance

Good news! If you just lost your job or left your employer for any reason, you can get coverage on the government-run health care marketplace. That’s a big deal if your family is depending on that health care! You’ll just need to apply within 60 days after you lose your employer’s coverage.

Here are a few tips for getting marketplace health insurance:

  • Look for subsidies that can help with the rising costs of health insurance. You might qualify for tax credits through Medicaid and/or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
  • Look into a high-deductible plan if you and your family are healthy and don’t go to the doctor very often. Your monthly premiums will be lower and you’ll have access to a Health Savings Account (HSA).

4. Medicaid

Medicaid gives aid to people with disabilities, the elderly, pregnant women, children, and families on low incomes. It currently covers over 78 million Americans and is available in all states to those who qualify.2

If you do qualify for Medicaid, it can reduce your monthly premiums and certain costs like copayments, deductibles and out-of-pocket bills. Medicaid eligibility is based on your income and the size of your household—not your job situation.

How Low Does Income Need to Be to Qualify for Medicaid?

Now you might be wondering, Can I get free health insurance if I’m unemployed? The answer is that Medicaid is usually free. Although states can charge you a share of the cost, in most cases, you won’t have to pay anything.

Next you might wonder, How low does my income have to be to qualify? Medicaid income levels are based on the government’s federal poverty level (FPL). Check out this resource at Healthcare.gov to see how you stack up.

What if your household income is too high to get Medicaid but too low to afford decent private insurance? Your children might still qualify for a Medicaid program called CHIP. And another plus is that enrollment for CHIP is open year-round.

5. Medicare

Medicare and Medicaid sound the same but they’re very different. Medicare is health care for people over the age of 65. It’s also available to people under 65 who have received Social Security disability benefits for more than two years.3

Medicare also covers those suffering from kidney failure and ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.4

If you qualify for Medicare, your coverage will be split into Part A (hospital costs) and Part B (medical costs), along with Part D (prescription drugs). And just to make things more confusing, there’s Medicare Advantage (known as Part C), which bundles them all together. Go to Medicare.gov to see if you qualify.

6. Private Individual Plan

You can also buy health insurance plans directly through health insurance companies or by working with an independent insurance agent. The coverage might not be as good as policies on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace, but at least you’ll have something in case of emergencies.

7. Spouse’s or Parents’ Health Insurance Plan

We saved this option for last. That’s because going on your spouse’s plan isn’t the most cost-effective option in normal circumstances. But if you’re unemployed and married—and your spouse has health insurance through their employer—you can usually be included on their policy. After all, isn’t marriage about helping each other out?

If you’re under 26 years old, you also have the option of going back on your parents’ insurance policy.5 You might not want to, but it could be the right move for a season.

How to Get Health Insurance Without a Job

Now that we’ve seen your options, let’s check out how to get health insurance without a job.

1. Start as soon as possible.

Even before you leave a job, there’s nothing wrong with talking to those helpful folks in HR about your health insurance benefits and what will happen if—or when—you leave. You can find out how much COBRA coverage will cost and use the info to decide whether to stick with COBRA or go it alone in the marketplace.

2. Gather important details and paperwork.

When you’re all set to talk COBRA, marketplace or even Medicaid, here’s the information you should have ready: your income, total household income, Social Security number, pay stubs, tax records, information about your current (or recently ended) health insurance plan, and the number of dependents in your household.

3. Get advice from an independent insurance agent.

Not only will an independent insurance agent find you the best package for your budget and needs, but they also know the ins and outs of your state’s laws. Some states want you to apply for government-based insurance through the federal marketplace. Others have a state-based marketplace and set their own levels of eligible income. Pretty confusing, huh? That’s why having an agent in your corner helps a lot.

4. Use your emergency fund wisely.

An emergency fund is a must—no matter what your situation is in life! But it’s even more important if you’re out of work and looking for health insurance coverage. Your emergency fund takes away the worry of those out-of-pocket costs that come with unpredictable trips to the doctor and routine checkups. Having a fully funded emergency fund (3–6 months of expenses saved up) will give you the ability to pay for insurance during a gap period without all the stress.

Get Help From an Expert

Here’s the truth: Trying to figure out your health insurance can be really overwhelming. Especially if you’re unemployed.

So why not ditch the stress? Our network of independent insurance agents who are part of our Endorsed Local Providers (ELP) program can help you figure out your options.

They’ll look at your unique situation and can shop for the best plan at the best price. And they’re RamseyTrusted, so you know you’ll be working with top agents.

Ready for some good advice and peace of mind from trusted insurance experts in your area?

Connect with an ELP today!

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

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