How to Get Health Insurance When You’re Unemployed

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In the U.S. health insurance is often linked to employment. In 2017 more than 175 million Americans received health coverage through their job, a contrast to the universal healthcare systems of many other nations.

This insurance-work link has been criticized for decades but is reaching a potential boiling point this year. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 40 million Americans filed for unemployment. Not only did many of those people lose access to health insurance, but it also happened at a time when public health was facing an unprecedented challenge.

There are, however, ways for the unemployed to find health insurance. If you’re dealing with unemployment, here’s where to find coverage.

Family Options

Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to get health insurance through your family if you’re unemployed. If you’re under 26 years old and one of your parents has an insurance plan, you can be added to the policy under the Affordable Care Act. In addition, if you’re married you may be able to join your spouse’s policy.

To go down this route, talk to your family immediately and consult their insurer. You only have 30 days from the date you lost your job to join a family member’s plan.

Affordable Care Act Marketplaces

Under the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, the federal government set up an insurance marketplace to make health care more widely available, and less attached to employment. Usually, the enrollment period in the Marketplace is November and December, but if you lost your job recently you can apply now with special status.

Costs differ from person to person, but the average premium this year is $462. That number roughly lines up with what the average American pays for insurance.

COBRA Insurance

Officially known as the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, COBRA is designed to help workers keep their insurance in situations when they may have otherwise lost it.

To qualify for COBRA, you need to meet the following three requirements:

  • The health plan you have is covered by the COBRA program
  • You experience a qualifying event (including job loss)
  • You are the employee impacted by the event or a direct beneficiary of that employee

If you get let go and your health plan is covered by COBRA, you’ll be notified within 30 days. If you are accepted into the COBRA program for termination or reduction in working hours, you can maintain coverage for up to 18 months. Your insurance will stay the same, with one big exception. Instead of the employer paying a percentage of the monthly premiums, you now pay all of them.

COBRA usually only applies to a small number of people, however, making it a less viable option.


Medicaid is a federal program that provides health coverage to millions of Americans for a number of reasons. Coverage through Medicaid is almost always low- or no-cost, making it ideal for low-income families. Depending on where you live, Medicaid will cover different things for different costs. To see if you qualify, you can use the government’s application portal.