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Best Health Insurance for the Unemployed

While it may seem hard to get health insurance for the unemployed, people who have lost their jobs can still find quality healthcare through Medicaid/CHIP, COBRA, short-term health insurance, family policies, Affordable Care Act plans, or Medicare. Here we will discuss the best insurance options for those without employer-sponsored health care.

Health insurance options for the unemployed

Job loss involves more than just a loss of income. In many cases, being newly unemployed can also mean losing health insurance. Finding health insurance when you're unemployed can seem challenging. However, unemployed people have several practical health insurance options.

If you quit or are fired and lose your job-provided health insurance, you can enroll in a Marketplace plan during special enrollment. This means you don't have to wait until November, when open enrollment happens every year, to sign up for health insurance. Some people may qualify for Medicaid, a public health insurance program for low-income people. Affordable plans for anyone not eligible for Medicaid are also available on the Marketplace.

There are five ways to get health insurance for the unemployed:

How to qualify
MedicareMedicare is a health insurance program for U.S. seniors.You must be 65 years or older. In some cases, you may be younger with certain illnesses or conditions.
Medicaid & CHIPA low to no-cost healthcare option for low-income people, with particularly good coverage for children. Income and family size (not employment) determine eligibility.
COBRAOffers the same protection that you received through your employer, but premiums can be pricey.Unemployed and furloughed individuals qualify automatically.
Short-term health insuranceIt can provide immediate coverage but with fewer features than traditional health insurance.Sign up at any time, although a medical questionnaire is usually required.
Joining a family member's planA good alternative for spouses, dependents, and students able to join various family members' plans. Your former employer's plan grants a 30-day special enrollment period if you lose insurance.
ACA plansMany people qualify for discounted private health insurance.Automatically eligible when losing health insurance or during fall open enrollment.


Medicare is a large health insurance program that helps seniors in the U.S. pay for hospital, medical, and other health bills. Medicare is primarily for people 65 or older. You may be eligible for Medicare sooner if you have ALS (also called Lou Gehrig's disease), End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure that needs dialysis or a transplant), or a disability.

Medicare includes four parts:

  • Part A. Hospital insurance and services.
  • Part B. Medical services, including doctor visits, tests, and other outpatient services.
  • Part C. Medicare Advantage Plans, sold by private insurance companies Medicare approves.
  • Part D. Prescription/drug coverage.
Compare Top Medicare Plans From Major Carriers
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In 2021, 64% of uninsured adults said they didn’t have healthcare coverage because of the cost. Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) help people with low incomes, families with children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with disabilities get free or low-cost health insurance. Some states have expanded Medicaid to all low-income adults.

Income requirements for Medicaid are based on Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) as established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Those who receive Medicaid must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the United States.


After leaving a job, COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) helps you keep the health insurance you had through your employer. After losing work coverage, you have 60 days to enroll in COBRA, and it can last for at least 18 months.

COBRA keeps your plan's coverage the same, but the cost may significantly increase once you leave. Unlike many insurance plans, COBRA has no contract, and you can cancel at any time.

Because COBRA is typically not the most cost-effective option, it may be best only to use it until your new policy takes effect. It is also a good option if you've already met your former plan's deductible or out-of-pocket maximum.

Short-term health insurance

Short-term health insurance can provide emergency healthcare when you are between policies or outside enrollment periods. It’s important to know that short-term health insurance does not have to follow ACA guidelines. Short-term policies vary greatly depending on the plan and the insurance provider you choose to purchase from.

Short-term health care plans are required to follow minimum essential coverage, which typically includes some form of preventive care, doctor visits, urgent care, emergency care, and sometimes prescriptions.

Joining a family member's plan

Any dependent a parent, family member, or individual can claim as a personal exemption tax deduction qualifies for coverage under the policyholder's health insurance. A dependent might be a spouse, domestic partner, or child. And if you’re under 26, you are eligible under the ACA to join your parent’s health insurance plan.

According to the Marketplace, young adults under 26 can join a parent’s plan even if they:

  • Get married
  • Aren’t claimed as a tax dependent
  • Turn down an offer of job-based coverage
  • Have or adopt a child
  • Start or leave school
  • Live in or out of your parent’s home

ACA plans

Most people who are out of work will get the best coverage at the best price from an ACA plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Private insurance companies sell these plans, also known as “Obamacare.” Plans are divided into five tiers: Catastrophic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

This makes it easier to find the right level of health insurance for the unemployed, self-employed, and furloughed. Pre-existing conditions can't prevent unemployed people from getting ACA coverage. Additionally, vision benefits are included for children, though adults must add on dental coverage for themselves.

Can you get free health insurance when unemployed?

Low-cost and free health insurance for the unemployed is possible and accessible to many through Medicaid. Medicaid is a public health insurance program for low-income individuals, and it can sometimes be free if they qualify.

Nearly 94 million individuals were enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP in the 50 states and the District of Columbia as of February 2023. Medicaid covers one in five Americans, and most don't have access to any other affordable healthcare options.

You may be eligible for the Marketplace’s Special Enrollment Period if you just lost your present coverage, got married, are expecting, or if your estimated household income is high enough. You can go to the Marketplace and find your state to learn what Medicaid plan best suits you.

How much is health insurance without a job?

The cost of health insurance for the unemployed, self-employed, and people with part-time work varies greatly, depending on your specific policy. For example, COBRA insurance is known for being especially expensive compared to employer-sponsored health insurance. Conversely, Medicaid can be a low-cost and sometimes free option for lower-income individuals and families.

In some cases, ACA plans can be free as well. According to a recent study, almost half of uninsured Americans may be eligible for free health coverage through Medicaid or enhanced ACA subsidies.

ACA health insurance plans are the most diverse and often the best health insurance for unemployed and self-employed people. There are no lifetime limits on ACA plans. Along with a variety of policy tiers (Catastrophic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum), ACA plans also do not refuse coverage based on preexisting conditions. In some cases, ACA plans can even be free.


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