Health Insurance When You're Out of Work

Medically Reviewed by Sarah Goodell on June 01, 2020

If you lose your job, you may be worried about finding health insurance to replace the plan you had at work. Here are some ways to stay covered.


COBRA is the name of a law that lets you keep your health insurance when you lose your job. You can keep the insurance from your old job for as long as 18 months. You must sign up for COBRA within 60 days of losing your job. If you worked for a small employer with fewer than 20 employees, you may not be eligible for COBRA (although some states require COBRA coverage for smaller companies).

Using COBRA to keep your insurance can be expensive. It will cost you more than you were paying while you were working.

When you had insurance through your job, your company may have paid part of your premium. Now that you're out of work, you'll have to pay both your part of the premium and the part that your former employer paid.

Enroll in Your Partner's Insurance

Does your spouse or partner have health insurance at their job? You may be able to join that plan.

Your spouse or partner can ask for a "special enrollment." That way, you can join the plan without waiting for the annual open enrollment period. Open enrollment typically lasts for only a few weeks each fall.

If you make a request for special enrollment within 30 days of losing your old coverage, the policy will take effect on the first day of the next full month.

Also, if you have children who were covered under your old policy, they can be included in the special enrollment request.

However, you can't ask for special enrollment if you've decided to use COBRA.

Insurance Marketplace

If you are out of work you now have an option to buy health insurance in an insurance Marketplace, also called an Exchange. Marketplaces are available in each state.

A Marketplace lets you shop online for a health plan. You can compare prices and benefits of different plans and find out if you qualify for government assistance to pay the plan’s premiums. Marketplaces have a limited open enrollment period. If you lose your health insurance because you lost your job, you qualify for a special enrollment period. You'll also be able to find out if you qualify for Medicaid, a government program for people with low incomes.

Preexisting Conditions

If you lose your job and then get new insurance, you won't have to worry about being denied coverage because of "preexisting" conditions. A preexisting condition is a medical problem you or your child had before you tried to enroll in a new insurance plan.

Insurance companies can no longer deny you coverage or require you to pay more for your health plan because you have a preexisting condition.

Short-Term Health Plans

Short-term health plansare plans that provide insurance for less than 12 months. The monthly premium may be cheaper than a regular health insurance plan; however, they do not have to provide the protections and benefits of other health plans. This means forexample, that they can exclude or deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and they may not include all the essential health benefits.These plans cannot be purchased through the health insurance Marketplaces and are not eligible for any premium subsidies. You might consider one of these plans if you are in between jobs, but read the plan’s terms and conditions carefully before buying one.

Coverage for Young Adults

If you're between ages 19 and 26, you have a special option. Under the health reform law, you can join your parents' health plan if they have insurance through their jobs.

WebMD Medical Reference


SOURCES: "Young Adult Coverage;" "Young Adults and the Affordable Care Ac;," "Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP);" and "What's Changing and When."

U.S. Department of Labor: "Frequently Asked Questions: COBRA Continuation Health Coverage;" "FAQ About Portability of Health Coverage and HIPAA;" and "Fact Sheet: Job Loss -- Important Information Workers Need to Know to Protect Their Health Coverage and Retirement Benefits." "A More Secure Future: Relief for You."

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